All you have to do is say the words “Chicken Fried,” and I won’t be able to help but finish out the catchy chorus of Zac Brown Band’s hugely successful first single from their debut 2008 album, The Foundation. I’m not a big country music fan in any sense of the word, but it’s a great credit to the universal appeal of ZBB and their blend of homestyle music. It’s country music that you don’t even have to like country music to enjoy.
ZBB’s third album, Uncaged definitely falls into that same category. A mixture of older Garth Brooks, throw in some harmonies from The Eagles, and a light touch of Jimmy Buffett’s island style, and you’ve got another great album, destined to take Country Western radio by storm, as well as cross over into other stations. Their prior two discs already scored them eight Billboard number one singles and two Grammy wins, and Uncaged looks to further the tradition.
The Georgia seven-piece group do exactly what the first track would indicate, and “Jump Right In,” with a catchy tune co-penned by Jason Mraz. You can feel the carefree island style right off the bat, and it permeates a few other tracks, none quite as much as the obvious “Island Song.” With its steel drums, laid back hook, and shout outs to Bob Marley, you’ll agree that having Buffett show up on their last album must have rubbed off on them quite a bit.
While I enjoy those songs, they aren’t the ones that really stand out on this album. The full and sweeping “Goodbye In Her Eyes” is one of the most complete and emotional tunes they’ve written, in my opinion, and is destined for a number one spot on the charts. Also, the gorgeous harmonies of “Natural Disaster” and subsequent upbeat transition calls to mind old Alabama tunes, and shows how much their musicianship is maturing since their formation.
“The Wind” is about as “country” as they get on the album, and it’s a drinking-whiskey-from-a-jar-then-using-it-to-blow-a-beat kind of hoe-down that’s sure to get your boots stomping. The title track is not quite as “Uncaged” as I would have thought, but the lyrics bring to mind the book “Wild At Heart” with lines about “drinking from mountain streams” and “breaking chains,” and I could see it being a great live performance.
Where Zac Brown Band really shines is on their ballads. “Lance’s Song” is a beautiful ode to a local hero, Atlanta drummer, Lance Tilton who died in a car wreck. The lyrics “for him there’s no matter waiting, got his silver invitation, just to do a little playing for the big band in the sky” are a touching and fitting tribute. Also, silky-smooth voiced Amos Lee has completed his crossover into country music, and makes “Day That I Die” an extra special track, and a definite highlight on an already great album.
Try This Track: “Natural Disaster”