Album Review — Zac Brown Band’s ‘The Owl’

(Warning: Long review! I don’t like writing them, but this is what happens when this band releases divisive music because I did the same thing two albums ago for this group.)

It’s confounding to many what Zac Brown Band have become. But I actually don’t think the band has changed and I’ll explain throughout this review. I think one big problem this band is running into is they continue to label their albums as country and send singles to country radio, yet in interviews they (and by they, it’s really Zac Brown) say they don’t limit themselves to one genre. Do they not understand how this confuses people? You can’t have your cake and eat it too. People don’t like to be bullshitted and they just want it given to them straight (see Sturgill Simpson on his new album, yet for some reason Billboard still put him on the country albums chart). Instead this band didn’t give it to fans straight and now they’re pissed. As a result this album is being put through the ringer and it’s justified for the band’s confusing signals, but at the same time the most egregious moments on the album are overshadowing what I believe to be some promising signs.

Sorry for this little rant, but it had to be said before I could finally talk about the music on this band’s new album The Owl.

Opening track “The Woods” is pretty fun and upbeat, making it a good choice for an opening track. It’s basically about doing your own thing and acknowledging that we all have different things that make us tick. This is a great song and approach for a band that wants to bend genres and do something different. I think even if you don’t like this song, you can at least respect the sentiment. “Need This” is supposed to be an island getaway song, but I have to tell you I’m not feeling the tropical, beach vibes on this. And when I think of a song like this, I think of a more relaxing tone and not the frenetic sound of this song. It’s just really odd and off-putting considering the theme.

Then we get to “OMW,” which is super catchy. And in this case, it’s not good. It’s not good at all. Because then you get this annoying song about getting a text saying OMW from a significant other stuck in your head. It’s one of the worst ear worms I’ve ever had stuck in my head because the lyrics are so vapid, dumb and not fun. So naturally this will end up a single. “Someone I Used To Know” is one of the better songs on the album, as it’s about someone looking back on their former selves and letting go of it for the person they are now. It’s a great song about growing as a person and one of the few moments on the album where the lyrics go beyond a base level. The sound is even fun and has flashes of country.

The most fun track on the album though is “Me and the Boys in the Band.” That’s because this track plays into this band’s strength of jam band, roots influenced rock with fun, singalong lyrics. The fiddle play of Jimmy de Martini can actually be heard, which has felt missing in this band’s music. You can also hear the band in Zac Brown Band on this song, which is no surprise as it’s one of the few songs on this album that doesn’t have outside writers that Brown brought in (this one is written by Brown, Clay Cook and Luke Laird). If you look at the songwriters on each song of this album, it’s quite telling of how each song turned out.

“Finish What We Started” is about a couple trying to reconcile and keep their relationship intact. Brandi Carlile sounds great as usual as the guest artist on this song, but the song itself doesn’t really do much for me. It lacks the heart and passion needed to really get the lyrics across, which I put on a weak vocal performance from Brown. This was a decent song that could have been great.

“God Given” is…I’m not quite sure how to best describe it. Basically I imagine Zac Brown (this has his finger prints all over it and I refuse to believe this was the band’s idea) was listening to the Rap Caviar playlist on Spotify one day and he thought to himself, “I could do something like this.” But he never thought if he should do it. You’re not a rapper! And hearing Zac Brown sing about Gucci bags and Vera whips is one of the most awkward and clumsy things you’ll hear this year. The lyrics aren’t even bad, but they fit someone like Bruno Mars or Justin Timberlake, not Zac Brown Band. Give this song to Timberlake and it would sound great. This song is the equivalent of someone knowingly putting on leather pants that are five sizes too small and then walking around like everything is fine. It’s not fine, it’s weird and we all feel second-hand embarrassment.

“Warrior” is about the strength and resiliency of people who serve in the armed forces and the struggles they deal with. On an album with multiple bad lyrical moments, this is certainly not one of them and I applaud the songwriters for actually crafting a great song about an important issue around soldiers that isn’t full of the usual clichés you hear in patriotic songs. “Shoofly Pie” has a roots-y and funky sound that I enjoy, similar in the vein of “Me and the Boys in the Band,” as it fits this band really well. The lyrics are fine (they don’t employ a sexual euphemism in a tacky or sophomoric way), but the hook gets repetitive so quickly. This song could have easily been like a minute shorter. “Already On Fire” is another track where I really enjoy the sound. It’s more on the rock side, which this band has demonstrated many times they’re great at, but for some reason they refuse to make a full-blown rock album. The lyrical imagery fits the sound well too, as it gives the song a sinister mood I enjoy.

Closing song “Leaving Love Behind” is the classic sound and song many grew accustom to with this group. It’s about looking back at a relationship that’s ended and trying to let go of the love that was once shared. I imagine Brown drew from his separation from his wife for this song, as you can feel the emotion from the opening note. Most importantly this song feels like the group made it and not Zac Brown with a bunch of outside writers and producers. It proves my point too about the songwriters, as this was written by Brown, Cook, Coy Bowles, de Martini, and Tim and Phil Hanseroth. This song shows this band can still be brilliant when they choose to be.

While many have taken their shots at this album and have come away from it more concerned for the Zac Brown Band than ever before, I actually take away from The Owl that this band is still great. The problem is not the band in Zac Brown Band, but Zac Brown himself. If you remove the three worst songs on this album, the remaining songs are overall pretty good. But the three worst songs are so bad that for many it just completely dominates the rest of The Owl. And it’s clear that the worst moments on this album are of Brown’s doing (see that terrible solo pop album he released as further proof). When Zac Brown Band is allowed to be a tight and cohesive band for a full album, they’re great. But does Zac Brown really want to be in a band anymore? Or is he more interested in his own vanity projects and ideas?

Grade: 6/10

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio [March 6]

Each week we take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. How do I determine the score for the song? The review grade it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been reviewed yet, then I will make the call. The grade it has received or I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night” +1 (Up 1)
  2. Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” +1 (Up 3)
  3. Michael Ray – “Douchey Pickup Song” -5 
  4. Brad Paisley – “Today” +2 
  5. Little Big Town – “Better Man” +2 (Down 4)
  6. Luke Bryan – “Fast” -1 (Up 1)
  7. Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled” -2 (Up 2)
  8. Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” +4 [Best Song]
  9. Jason Aldean – “Any Ol’ Barstool” (Up 1)
  10. Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” -1 (Down 4) 
  11. Kelsea Ballerini – “Yeah Boy” -5 
  12. Brantley Gilbert – “The Weekend” -5 
  13. Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl”
  14. Sam Hunt – “Body Like a Back Road” -5 (Up 1) [Worst Song]
  15. Kenny Chesney – “Bar at the End of the World” -3 (Down 1)
  16. Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance”
  17. High Valley – “Make You Mine” -2 (Up 1)
  18. Dierks Bentley – “Black” -2 (Down 1)
  19. Luke Combs – “Hurricane” -1
  20. Dan + Shay – “How Not To” +1 (Up 2)
  21. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” +4 (Down 1)
  22. Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl” +1 (Down 1)
  23. Darius Rucker – “If I Told You” 
  24. Lady Antebellum – “You Look Good” -4 (Up 2)
  25. Rascal Flatts – “Yours If You Want It” -2 (Down 1)
  26. Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven” +3 (Down 1)
  27. Keith Urban (feat. Carrie Underwood) – “The Fighter” -5 (Up 1)
  28. Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know” -2 (Re-Enters Top 30)
  29. Zac Brown Band – “My Old Man” +4 (Up 1)
  30. Miranda Lambert – “We Should Be Friends” +2 (Down 3)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio: -24

The pulse drops five spots this week.

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Runaway June – “Lipstick” +3

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” – Up 3 from #5 to #2
  • Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know” – Up 3 from #31 to #28

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Runaway June – “Lipstick” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Little Big Town – “Better Man” – Down 4 from #1 to #5
  • Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” – Down 4 from #6 to #10

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” (Radio and Blake just can’t bear the thought of one week in the top 30 without a single from him, so chart jacking!)
  • Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” (This one appears to be out of gas now. We’ll see if EMI fights to keep it alive)
  • Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” (The Fritos song finally appears done. No one will remember it)
  • Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her”
  • High Valley – “Make You Mine” (54 weeks. I bet it’ll reach the top 10 in another 25 weeks)
  • Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven”
  • Miranda Lambert – “We Should Be Friends” (You can start panicking and worrying, Miranda fans. I’m being generous putting it here and not above because this is surrounded by radio darlings. Not good.)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Florida Georgia Line (feat. Backstreet Boys) – “God, Your Mama, and Me”
  • Cole Swindell – “Flatliner”
  • Blake Shelton – “Every Time I Hear That Song”
  • Brothers Osborne – “It Ain’t My Fault”

 

As always be sure to weigh-in with your thoughts in the comments below. 

Country Perspective’s Best Music Reviewed in February

This is the monthly recap post of all the great music we reviewed on the blog in case you missed it or just came across our humble, little blog. So check this music out if you haven’t already.

Albums

nikki-lane-highway-queen

Nikki Lane – Highway Queen

Nikki Lane delivers music excellence in Highway Queen. It feels like a truly breakout moment for Lane, as her personality and style shines though so well on this record. The instrumentation and production are spot-on and frames each song like they should, which shows how well Lane and Tyler worked in making this album. This album delivers the rollicking and fun foot-stompers just as well as it delivers emotional gut-punchers. Mark my words: this will go down as one of the best country albums of the year. Lane hits the jackpot and wins big with Highway Queen.

balto-strangers

Balto – Strangers

Simply put Strangers is a fantastic album. Balto intrigued me from my first listen of Strangers and the more I pulled back the layers of this album, the more impressed I became. There’s such a rich, variety display of sounds throughout this album that pair up so well with their lyrical counterparts. It’s an album that kind of pulls you every which way and you feel a little bit of everything listening to it. While the instrumentation is something that will immediately impress, the songwriting is equally admirable and lead vocalist Sheron really does a great job bringing the songs to life. Strangers is the type of album that will leave a smile on your face and reward you for listening from start to finish.

alison-krauss-windy-city

Alison Krauss – Windy City

For fans of classic country and Alison Krauss, Windy City is a real joy to listen to from start to finish. I really applaud Krauss and Cannon for picking a great group of songs to cover. There’s plenty of variety, a song for any mood you’re in on this album. Each listen through you’ll have a new favorite. It’s also an educational album for those aren’t as informed about the history of the genre and brings to light some quality old artists worth knowing about. I wouldn’t be surprised if this album sees Krauss add to her staggering Grammys total. Krauss once again delivers really good music with Windy City.

whitney-rose-south-texas-suite

Whitney Rose – South Texas Suite (EP)

Whitney Rose was looking to capture and honor the spirit of Texas style country and she absolutely accomplishes this with South Texas Suite. The instrumentation on this album is damn near flawless, featuring lots of twangy steel guitars and fiddle (a must of course if you’re gonna play in Texas). The songwriting is great and deceptively deeper than you think upon first listen. Rose also still manages to incorporate her throwback soulful influence into the music too. All in all it’s just a flat-out fun listen that I think any country fan can come to appreciate. Rose once again reminds us of her fantastic talent, reaffirming herself as one of the brightest, best up and coming artists in country music today with South Texas Suite.

 

Songs

Zac Brown Band – “My Old Man”

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio [February 27]

little-big-town-better-man

Each week we take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. How do I determine the score for the song? The review grade it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been reviewed yet, then I will make the call. The grade it has received or I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Little Big Town – “Better Man” +2 
  2. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night” +1 
  3. Michael Ray – “Douchey Pickup Song” -5 
  4. Brad Paisley – “Today” +2 
  5. Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” +1 
  6. Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” -1 (Up 1) 
  7. Luke Bryan – “Fast” -1 (Up 2)
  8. Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” +4 [Best Song]
  9. Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled” -2 (Up 2)
  10. Jason Aldean – “Any Ol’ Barstool” 
  11. Kelsea Ballerini – “Yeah Boy” -5 (Up 2)
  12. Brantley Gilbert – “The Weekend” -5 
  13. Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl” (Up 2)
  14. Kenny Chesney – “Bar at the End of the World” -3 
  15. Sam Hunt – “Body Like a Back Road” -5 (Up 3) [Worst Song]
  16. Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance”
  17. Dierks Bentley – “Black” -2 (Up 2)
  18. High Valley – “Make You Mine” -2 (Down 1)
  19. Luke Combs – “Hurricane” -1 (Up 1)
  20. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” +4 (Up 2)
  21. Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl” +1 
  22. Dan + Shay – “How Not To” +1 (Up 1)
  23. Darius Rucker – “If I Told You” (Up 1)
  24. Rascal Flatts – “Yours If You Want It” -2 (Up 1)
  25. Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven” +3 (Up 1)
  26. Lady Antebellum – “You Look Good” -4 (Up 1)
  27. Miranda Lambert – “We Should Be Friends” +2 (Up 1)
  28. Keith Urban (feat. Carrie Underwood) – “The Fighter” -5 (New to Top 30)
  29. Runaway June – “Lipstick” +3 (Up 1)
  30. Zac Brown Band – “My Old Man” +4 (Re-Enters Top 30)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio: -19

The pulse improves six spots this week.

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red” -5
  • Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know” -2

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Keith Urban (feat. Carrie Underwood) – “The Fighter”
  • Zac Brown Band – “My Old Man”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Keith Urban (feat. Carrie Underwood) – “The Fighter” – Up 5 from #33 to #28
  • Sam Hunt – “Body Like A Back Road” – Up 3 from #18 to #15

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know” – Out of the Top 30 (#31)

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl”
  • Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her”
  • High Valley – “Make You Mine”
  • Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl”
  • Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven”
  • Runaway June – “Lipstick”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Brantley Gilbert – “The Weekend”
  • Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance”

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know”
  • Cole Swindell – “Flatliner”
  • Florida Georgia Line (feat. Backstreet Boys) – “God, Your Mama, and Me”
  • Blake Shelton – “Every Time I Hear That Song”

 

Call me crazy, but is this gerrymandering really helping anyone? What is the point of all this blatant chart jacking?

 

As always be sure to weigh-in with your thoughts in the comments below. 

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio [February 13]

gold-ceelo
Yeah I couldn’t think of anything interesting for this week’s top song. So here’s CeeLo Green’s new look at the Grammys. Mesmerizing, eh?

Each week we take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. How do I determine the score for the song? The review grade it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been reviewed yet, then I will make the call. The grade it has received or I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red” -5 (Up 2)
  2. Little Big Town – “Better Man” +2 (Up 2)
  3. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night” +1 (Up 2)
  4. Thomas Rhett – “Star of the Show” -3 (Down 3)
  5. Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” -1 (Down 3) 
  6. Brad Paisley – “Today” +2 (Up 1)
  7. Michael Ray – “Douchey Pickup Song” -5 (Up 1)
  8. Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” +1 (Up 1)
  9. Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” +4 (Up 1) [Best Song]
  10. Luke Bryan – “Fast” -1 (Up 1)
  11. Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled” -2 (Up 2)
  12. Jason Aldean – “Any Ol’ Barstool” (Up 2)
  13. Brantley Gilbert – “The Weekend” -5 (Up 2)
  14. Kelsea Ballerini – “Yeah Boy” -5 (Up 2)
  15. Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” (Up 2)
  16. Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl” (Up 2)
  17. Kenny Chesney – “Bar at the End of the World” -3 (Up 2)
  18. High Valley – “Make You Mine” -2 (Up 2)
  19. Dierks Bentley – “Black” -2 (Up 4)
  20. Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl” +1 (Up 4)
  21. Sam Hunt – “Body Like a Back Road” -5 [Worst Song]
  22. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” +4 
  23. Dan + Shay – “How Not To” +1 (Up 6)
  24. Luke Combs – “Hurricane” -1 (New to Top 30)
  25. Darius Rucker – “If I Told You” 
  26. Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven” +3 (Up 1)
  27. Rascal Flatts – “Yours If You Want It” -2 (Up 3)
  28. Miranda Lambert – “We Should Be Friends” +2
  29. Lady Antebellum – “You Look Good” -4 (Re-Enters Top 30)
  30. Runaway June – “Lipstick” +3 (Re-Enters Top 30)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio: -26

The pulse drops one spot this week.

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Granger Dibbles Jr. – “If The Boot Fits” -4 (Finally!)
  • Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes” -1
  • Zac Brown Band – “My Old Man” +4

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Luke Combs – “Hurricane”
    • In case you didn’t know this is the newest On The Verge song. Not a bad pick considering this was selling well and doing good YouTube numbers before even being picked. With On The Verge, I won’t be surprised if this goes all the way to #1.
  • Lady Antebellum – “You Look Good”
  • Runaway June – “Lipstick”
    • Their label appears to be sticking behind this song, which is good to see. However it’s at 37 weeks and I think the best the label can do at this point is try to get this into the top 25 because I don’t see it going beyond this. It’s not selling well and radio isn’t keen on it.

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Luke Combs – “Hurricane” – Up 8 from #32 to #26
  • Dan + Shay – “How Not To” – Up 6 from #29 to #23 (Huh. Thought this one was being dropped?)
  • Dierks Bentley – “Black” – Up 4 from #23 to #19
  • Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl” – Up 4 from #24 to #20

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Granger Dibbles Jr. – “If The Boot Fits” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Zac Brown Band – “My Old Man” – Out of the Top 30 (#35)

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” (I think the label is going to try for top 20 and drop support. But this is Warner and well see below…)
  • High Valley – “Make You Mine” (51 weeks! Let it gooooo)
  • Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven” (44 weeks)

On The Hot Seat:

  • Darius Rucker – “If I Told You” (Sales aren’t bad, but this single is already 30 weeks old. With lots of new singles on the rise, this one needs to show more signs of life if it hopes to stick around)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know”
  • Cole Swindell – “Flatliner”
  • Keith Urban (feat. Carrie Underwood) – “The Fighter”
  • Zac Brown Band – “My Old Man”

 

As always be sure to weigh-in with your thoughts in the comments below.