Tuesday, May 5, 2015

ZAC BROWN BAND- 'JEKYLL + HYDE' (ALBUM REVIEW)

By: Connor Glowacki

Cover art for 'Jekyll + Hyde'
Photo courtesy of
zacbrownband.com
      Zac Brown Band have been a powerful staple in country music ever since their 2008 major label debut album, 'The Foundation'. 'The Foundation' garnered great reviews for the band's songwriting and catchy hooks and produced mega hits songs like 'Chicken Fried', 'Toes', 'Whatever It Is', 'Highway 20 Ride', and 'Free'. The album would go on to sell over three million copies in the United States and brought Zac Brown Band huge mainstream recognition.
     After 'The Foundation', the band saw continued success in their two follow-up albums, 2010's 'You Get What You Give' and 2012's 'Uncaged'. More hits came for the band, but during this process, Zac Brown Band began to gain a reputation as one of country's best touring acts due to their expanded repotire and musicality.
     Their music combined country with southern rock, folk and even reggae at certain points. In 2013, the band teamed up with Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl for a more southern rock based effort in the aptly titled, 'The Grohl Sessions'. Recently in concerts, Zac Brown Band has performed covers of songs from artists like Queen, Metallica, Billy Joel, and even Pink Floyd.
Photo courtesy of country1071.com
     When preparing to release their newest record, 'Jekyll + Hyde', frontman Zac Brown stated in several interviews that the album was going to showcase more experimentation from the band and allowing themselves to stretch their growing musical influences.
     So how does 'Jekyll + Hyde' stack up? Here's a track by track breakdown of the country band's latest release.

1.) 'Beautiful Drug'

     'Jekyll + Hyde' begins with the song 'Beautiful Drug'. It starts off with a fast, menacing banjo riff that mixes a separated strummed acoustic guitar before fading into the background by the beginning of the first verse. The song has lots of studio effects that include elements indicating electronic aesthetics mixed with a slightly distorted electric guitar.
     The lyrics talk about Brown describing his girl as a beautiful drug, "Lipstick and heels, pull me in. Get me hooked like a junkie. You got me feeling so high."
     The chorus is the example of an ultimate sing-along with lyrics, "You're such a beautiful drug, I can't get enough. Addicted and I'm dying for a hit of your love." The lyrics are okay enough, but this kind of subject matter has been done so many times from artists in other genres and done better by those other artists.
     As the chorus erupts, 'Beautiful Drug' transitions into this dance track with propulsive, throbbing beats. There are synthesizers everywhere and it just doesn't feel like an organic Zac Brown Band song. The electronic dance music (EDM) sounds and instrumentation will confuse a lot of listeners. The band did say that 'Jekyll + Hyde' would be an album filled with experimentation pulling from different musical genres, but 'Beautiful Drug' sounds like a weird attempt to gain a crossover hit on Top 40 radio.
      Zac Brown Band end up tackling other genres throughout 'Jekyll + Hyde', but 'Beautiful Drug' is a complete mess that should have NEVER happened.

2.) 'Loving You Easy'

'Loving You Easy' resembles music
from Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
Photo courtesy of Rolling Stone
     The latest released commercial single from 'Jekyll + Hyde' opens with a clean guitar riff and drums following right behind. Musically, 'Loving You Easy' sounds like a Motown song from the 1970s. Something like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles would have done. Or if compared to a song by a modern day artist, it sounds similar to 'Sugar' by pop band Maroon 5.
     Violins and shakers accompany the guitar part during the chorus and includes strong vocals by Brown, especially when the song moves up a key in it's latter portion.
     Lyrically, it's about how Brown believes that the woman he is in love with is such an incredible person and that nothing could be better than life with her. "Every morning when you come downstairs. Hair's a mess, but I don't care. No makeup on and shining so bright."
     This kind of subject matter has been done to death so many times before, but the instrumentation is tight and Brown sings the lyrics with such an earnest delivery and intensity that it makes up for the bland lyrical structure.
     The Motown vibes of 'Loving You Easy' still doesn't fit well to me for Zac Brown Band, but it's defintely better than that mess of a song 'Beautiful Drug'.

3.) 'Remedy'

     After two disappointing songs to start off 'Jekyll +Hyde', 'Remedy' shows Zac Brown Band playing to their strengths. It's finally a natural country sounding song, which includes their notoriously excellent vocal harmonies. Add that with the violins and other instrumentation and this finally sounds like a Zac Brown Band that audiences will love.
     The lyrics revolve around loving one another in an attempt to create peace and to make the world a better place. Even though these types of songs have been done before, 'Remedy' is still inspirational and has provided the most emotional impact by far on this album.
     The vocals are fantastic by Brown, especially when he is hitting some of these ridiculous high notes by the end of the song. With a backing choir supporting him, Brown showcases why he is one of the more well-regarded singers today in country music. Another thing that I really liked about this song was the catchy mandolin and banjo solo after the chorus that led the way into the third verse. Overall, 'Remedy' is a very solid track.

4.) 'Homegrown'

Photo courtesy of Facebook
     'Homegrown' was the first single released from 'Jekyll + Hyde' all the way back in January and it has become a legitimate hit after peaking at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 at country radio. It's a song about appreciating the simple things in life that are right around you and not worrying about things out of your control.
     I really enjoy the banjo instrumental during the verses and the vocal harmonies that strengthen during the chorus.
     It's a classic arena-country song from Zac Brown and is also very rootsy and country for what is currently being played on country radio. It follows the themes of previous hits like 'Chicken Fried', 'Toes' and 'Knee Deep'. 'Homegrown' should end up being a fan favorite for the rest of the band's career.

5.) 'Mango Tree' featuring Sara Barielles

     It's actually not too surprising to see singer-songwriter Sara Barielles as the featured guest on 'Mango Tree'. Zac Brown Band has previously included several singers as featured guests on their previous albums.  Most notably Jimmy Buffet on the song 'Knee Deep' from 2010's 'You Get What You Give' and Amos Lee on the song 'Day That I Die' from 2012's 'Uncaged'.
Barielles duets with Brown on 'Mango Tree'.
Photo courtesy of Billboard
     'Mango Tree' is very jazzy and also contains elements of big-band. It's retro, but cool in the sense that this band appears to be determined to not be defined by a specific genre.
     Barielles enters in the second verse and fits very well with the stripped back arrangements. Barielles and Brown combine to form great harmonies during the chorus and it turns out to be a great duet.
     It's really easy to be impressed by the band's technical musical ability, by being able to play multiple instruments in different genres. I really like 'Mango Tree' and think that this jazz style suits Zac Brown Band well. It's a style that they should continue exploring in the future.

6.) 'Heavy Is The Head' featuring Chris Cornell

    My personal favourite genre of music remains to this day to be alternative rock. When I heard that Soundgarden's Chris Cornell would be a guest on this song, I knew that this song was going to ROCK. Very distorted, metallic guitars open the song and Cornell hauntingly wails the chorus, "Heavy is the head, who wears the crown."
Cornell features on 'Heavy Is The Head'
Photo courtesy of Pinterest.
     Lyrically, the song talks about subjects rebelling over a tyrannical king or head of state and a call to arms in order to overthrow that leader. Yet it's also about the burden that heads of states feel when they are on top of their own perch. "Loved by few and judged by many, he bears that weight alone."
     Brown effectively pulls off the raspier rock vocals and sounds similar to Dave Grohl, but Cornell shines as he showcases his dynamic vocal range.
     Again, I appreciate the risks and experiementation that Zac Brown Band is taking and while the experiments with EDM and Motown don't exactly work, their forays into rock and jazz have been excellent so far.




7.) 'Bittersweet'

     'Bittersweet' leads off with a beautiful strings intro that morphs into an acoustic guitar interlude. But after about three and a half minutes of acoustic guitars, the song abruptly kicks into a second gear with roaring electric guitar that create this large wall of sound.
     'Bittersweet' talks about Brown losing someone very close to him and escaping to the ocean. But instead of drinking away his problms, he remembers the positive memories that he shared with that individual. Even though the memories may be positive, they are still bittersweet.
     It's a gut-wrenching, powerful song that does a great job of conveying the appropriate emotions needed in order for the listener to be able to understand and relate to it.

8.) 'Castaway'

     After the slow and jazzy 'Mango Tree', the hard rocker 'Heavy Is The Head' and the somber, instrospective number in 'Bittersweet', it's nice that 'Castaway' is just a laid back and fun summer song.  It's filled with acoustic guitars and ukuleles and is about letting go and being a castaway from the everyday grind for just one night.
     It contains hints of reggae music that is embedded into the instrumentation and the vocals. However, it conceptually feels too close to previous feel good summer songs like 'Toes' and 'Knee Deep'. But it was a much needed energy shift that balances out 'Jekyll + Hyde'.

9.) 'Tomorrow Never Comes'

     An acoustic guitar riff opens up 'Tomorrow Never Comes', but it then changes into another thumping beat that leads into a bass drop of folk-tronica music.
     Lyrically, it's about living for the moment as if there is no tomorrow. It's such a played out topic, but the lyrics are still semi-inspiring. And unlike 'Beautiful Drug', the mix of acoustic guitars and the banjo with the syntheitc beats works better than it probably should. It's sounds an awful lot like the song 'Hey Brother' by EDM artist Aviici.
     Once again, I appreciate Zac Brown Band for taking some risks with their instrumentation and several times it does work throughout 'Jekyll + Hyde'. But EDM is a bad fit for the rootsy, organic sound that the band is able to naturally project.
     It's a lot better than 'Beautiful Drug', but they need to just stay as far away as they can from EDM at this point because they can't pull it off well.

10.) 'One Day'

     'One Day' contains an opening with a mix of a twang filled reverb electric guitar and violin. "One day with you is all that it takes to bring me back again. I fall, I'm always careless, never concerned where I land."
     The instrumentation is solid and the vocal delivery is also on point due to Brown being able to deliver the lyrics in such an earnest manner. 'One Day' is a nice and relaxing love song, but it just doesn't catch my ear enough or have that interesting of a melody to keep me engaged.
All in all, it's a decent filler track.

11.) 'Dress Blues'

     This is actually a cover of singer-songwriter Jason Isbell's song of the same name. It'a about a United States marine who was killed in action. A song about patriotism and ultimate sacrifice that was beautifully written by Isbell and will hit home for anyone with a relative/significant other in the military or serving in the military themselves.
     It's somber with lyrics like, "Maybe 18 was too early, maybe 30 or 40 is too. Did you get your chance to make peace with the man before he sent his angels down for you?"
     Zac Brown Band does a solid job at making the song their own with their own interpretation, but credit should be given to Isbell for penning a wonderful dedication to fallen soldiers.

12.) 'Young And Wild'

     'Young and Wild' is a much more carefree song than 'Dress Blues'. It'a about reminiscing about the rebellious days of teeneage youth. Even with learning from the mistakes you made in the past, you would do it all over again so that you could gain those same experiences and memories.
     It's a pure country instrumentation with a steel pedal guitar providing a twang-like echo and background violins. It's introspective, but also has a tight groove within the instrumentation to make the song fun.

13.) 'Junkyard'

     'Junkyard' might be one of the better songs off of 'Jekyll + Hyde' for tackling the issue of child abuse. It's an intense and slow-cooking country-rocker with distorted and muddy base and guitar lines, creating this giant wall of sound that can't be destroyed. And in the middle of the song is this Celtic or Irish interlude with drum loops that create so much more chaos and the tension before the tempo just explodes by the end of 'Junkyard'.
     With lines like, "And he says, 'You're as sick, as you are lovely, and in need of a hand'. He tells me, you are never worthy but I was just a child you see...that's my reality", the song combines great storytelling with gripping realism that will take the listener slightly aback. The intensity of the lyrics matched with the intensity of the instrumentation makes 'Junkyard' a great song that will be the deep album cut that listeners will constantly flock back to.

14.) 'I'll Be Your Man (Song For A Daughter)'

     'I'll Be Your Man (Song For A Daughter)' is a calm island-tinged folk country song that is able to relax the listener after the intense 'Junkyard'. Lyrically, it's a song about a father singing to his daugther that he'll always be there for her and that she should go out and try new things, dance when no one is watching and to just enjoy life.
     It's also a heartfelt moment where Brown sings to the daughter character that until she finds a man to fall in love with and get married with, he'll be her man and will always be one phone call away. It's a song about the passage of time and life that alot of people can relate to and I wish that this was the final song on the album.

15.) 'Wildfire'

     It's not that 'Wildfire' is a bad song. It has tight harmonies from the band members and an interesting groove that contains twang filled electric guitars and violins, but it's a lazy filler track.
     If it were anywhere in the middle of 'Jekyll + Hyde', I think I would've liked the carefree party vibes of 'Wildfire' more, but after a song like 'I'll Be Your Man (Song For A Daughter)', which is a perfect album closer, 'Wildfire' feels extremely clumsy and out of place. Unfortunately, it closes 'Jekyll + Hyde' on a weaker note.

FINAL VERDICT:

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.
     Well, 'Jekyll + Hyde' did provide the experimentation that Zac Brown had promised. But at least the band was willing to take numerous musical risks in a genre that contains artists playing it way too safe a great deal of the time.
     Credit should be given to all of the band members for stepping up their technical performance for this album. To be able to play different genres of music is astounding and stretches where Zac Brown Band can take their music in the future.
     The heavy rock sounds of 'Heavy Is The Head' and the retro jazz track 'Mango Tree' are perfect examples of what worked really well, while the EDM influenced 'Beautiful Drug', 'Tomorrow Never Comes' and the Motown flavored 'Loving You Easy' tended to fall flat on their faces.
     The great thing about experimental albums is that the audience's response to certain tracks tend to usually let the band know which sounds they should pursue for future projects. Outside of the missteps of their experimentation, the main problem with 'Jekyll + Hyde' is that the album, at times, drags and lasts over an hour throughout its entire length. If Zac Brown Band decided to cut a few of the weaker songs out, 'Jekyll + Hyde' could have been a great album because it would've felt more cohesive.
     'Jekyll + Hyde' is an album that allowed Zac Brown Band to stretch its musical limits. And in a genre that produces more and more albums from major artists that sound too polished, this new project was a nice change of pace.
     My hope is that the band learns which musical genres work to their strengths and then apply those strengths to their next album. If Zac Brown Band does that, their future fifth album could end up being their best piece of work.

RATING: 3 out of 5


BEST THREE SONGS

1.) 'Heavy Is The Head'        2.) 'Mango Tree'          3.) 'Remedy'


Any thoughts on the new album from Zac Brown Band, 'Jekyll + Hyde'?

Like it? Dislike it? And did their experimentation pay off?

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below or on Twitter @ConnorGlowacki.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. Looking forward to hearing the new album!!

    ReplyDelete