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REVIEW: Zac Brown Band – ‘Welcome Home’

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If you’re a frequent visitor to YLIAS, my love and admiration for Zac Brown Band needs no explanation. The most talented band in music, in my opinion, and those who attended Country2Country earlier this year I’m sure will find it difficult to argue after that unrivalled, roof-raising performance. But why was their C2C show such a stand-out performance? Why doesn’t everybody talk about their first C2C appearance in the same vein? Because this time, it was a greatest hits set list. A predominantly country set list. This is what Zac Brown Band fans want to hear, and it’s taken an EP with Dave Grohl and a mismatch experimentation album in ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ for the band and their management to face it. Which brings us to their latest project, ‘Welcome Home’, a return to their roots and in Zac’s words, their “most personal album”.

A minor gripe with this release is the amount of instant-grat tracks that became available before the album’s release date. I love the discovery element of a new album, becoming immersed in a whole new project. Sadly, as 5 tracks from this 10-track album had already been released anyway, I found myself skipping tracks on release day to get to the new stuff. It’s the way of the world now, everybody does it, but I wish they’d just give it to us all at once and build the anticipation a little bit more.

The album kicks off with the aptly-named ‘Roots’ which does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a return to the Zac Brown Band of old, beginning with Jimmy on the fiddle and Clay on keys. Hearing those first few notes was an emotional experience for me; it’s rootsy, gorgeously crafted instrumentation that takes me back in time to when I was just discovering the genre through Zac. It takes us right through the history of ZBB – “every Friday you could find me at Dixie Tavern playing with my band. We’d start the show with a round of whiskey, play our hearts out and wish it’d never end”. Long before the days of ‘Beautiful Drug’ and Zac’s EDM alter-ego.

‘Real Thing’ and ‘Long Haul’ delve into the soulful country side of ZBB. The first is a celebration of a girl’s love being the real deal, comparing it to “genuine” whiskey “made in the USA” in true ZBB style. The band’s terrific harmonies soar in the chorus and it’s another one of those distinctive, categorically Zac Brown Band anthems, which was clear to see from their C2C performance of the track. ‘Long Haul’ follows in a similar fashion, and it’s almost this album’s reincarnation of ‘One Day’, one of the highlights of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. Soul-driven with an infectious hook; an instant favourite from the first listen.

‘2 Places At 1 Time’ is where the album really clicks into gear, however. Written from Zac’s perspective as a Dad struggling to balance time on the road with family commitments, this one really tugs at the heart strings and is ‘You Get What You Give’ album quality (the biggest compliment I could ever give to a country song). “I’ve been all around the world, done things that no one would believe, thought I was living in a movie on that giant silver screen. Out of everywhere I’ve been, oh it kills me every time. If a man could just divide, I could be two places at one time”. With Jimmy at the forefront again, this is ZBB at their un-challengeable best. A clear song of the year contender.

The nostalgia continues with ‘Family Table’, a throwback to the style of ‘Jump Right In’ and a good old celebration of family love. It’s an opportunity for the guys to let loose with their musical talents and the song almost becomes like a jam session with a killer instrumental section. Like the Hawaiian-style island tune ‘Start Over’, and ‘Your Majesty’ which is essentially just a slower version of ‘Homegrown’ (no, seriously. It’s EXACTLY the same melody!), ZBB are playing to their strengths and right into the hands of long-term fans who may have become alienated by their recent output.

A full review of the lead single ‘My Old Man’ can be found HERE

‘Trying To Drive’ was a nice surprise when I first saw the track list for this album. All you die-hard Zac fans out there might remember this from the ‘Pass The Jar’ live album recorded at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA back in 2010. Featuring the terrific Atlanta native Aslyn, the song was originally a piano ballad, but they’ve re-invented the track for this new album. They’ve cranked up the instrumentation to give it a slightly rockier edge. I actually prefer the original live version, but it’s great to hear a different spin on it.

The album concludes with a cover of Jon Prine’s ‘All The Best’, featuring the wonderful Kacey Musgraves on backing vocals. Dream collaboration, right?! Nothing more than an acoustic guitar and subtle input from Jimmy De Martini is all that’s required on this spine-tingling, incredibly vulnerable track.

On the whole, does this album match the quality of ‘You Get What You Give’ and ‘The Foundation’? In my opinion, not quite. It’s missing a massive radio hit like ‘Chicken Fried’, ‘Toes’ or ‘As She’s Walking Away’ and I don’t think it’ll achieve the same commercial success for that reason. But fair play to Zac, he felt a duty to re-pay the loyalty his fans have shown to the band throughout their slightly experimental, off-the-rails period and he’s delivered a more-than-adequate collection of songs that will be received well by fans and critics alike. Welcome home, Zac.

Dan Wharton (@LifeInASong_Dan)

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