Album Review: Zac Brown Band – The Foundation

Pierce Greenberg | November 20th, 2008

Zac Brown Band - The FoundationThe Zac Brown Band could easily be described as country music’s feel-good story of 2008. A typically hard-working, long-touring regional band that has worked its way up to a major label record deal, the Atlanta based five-piece has already scored a top five hit on country radio with lead single “Chicken Fried.” Despite the band’s early success, however, its Atlantic debut The Foundation, which features everything from Latino-infused flare to reggae breakdowns to radio-friendly country, sometimes blurs the line between diversity and inconsistency.

For the most part, the band makes it work, bringing all of these stylistic variations together to create a unique sound. A few tracks stretch too far, however, and interrupt what is otherwise a very good album. “Where The Boat Leaves From,” which sounds like a demo that might end up on Kenny Chesney’s desk, is one of these. The lyrics lack emotion and originality, especially in the needlessly repetitive chorus that states, “Get away to where the boat leaves from/It takes away all of your big problems.” With instrumentation full of cheesy island-vibe, it’s a track that just doesn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the album.

In contrast, album-opener “Toes” takes a more refreshing look at the same “let’s get away to the beach” theme. Here Brown narrates a vacation by making use of fun imagery and one fiesta of a chorus, bringing things full circle when the singer returns to his country home, where, instead of longing for the beach again, he kicks back with his toes in the clay (not sand) and takes a long sip of PBR. Now that’s more like it.

One mainstay throughout The Foundation is Brown’s understated (and perhaps underrated) vocals. Brown is a formidable front-man for this group, and his voice really shines on “Free,” a gentle love song that manages to show the softer side of his grizzly image. It is a touching ballad that soars behind Brown’s big voice.

Throughout the album, the band takes quite a few gambles in terms of production by mixing up rhythms and leaving ample space for instrumentals, though there are certain songs obviously aimed towards country radio. “Chicken Fried” more or less just mashes together all the elements of typical country radio fare (fried chicken, beer, radio, mothers, love, children, freedom, soldiers, etc.) into one song, while “A Different Kind of Fine” falls under this same pattern, paying homage to the typical country girl. Of course, like any good country girl, this one wears a ball cap, has a body like a longneck bottle, and is not the Cadillac/caviar type.

Overall, The Foundation mostly contains strong material with familiar themes like the simple love song “Whatever It Takes,” the bluegrass laden ode-to-a-girl “Mary,” and the geographical heartbreak song “Highway 20 Ride.”

Unfortunately, the album doesn’t end there.

The last song, “Sic ‘Em On A Chicken,” is a real head-scratcher. The fiddle-laden talking song is a page straight out of Charlie Daniels’ book, automatically making it feel a bit watered down. Then there are the lyrics, which primarily deal with sending a dog out to kill a pesky chicken, and ultimately–you guessed it–making some chicken pot pie. Rounding out the song is a booming electric guitar solo that adds dramatic effect to the poor bird’s demise. It’s clear that the ZBB is just trying to have a little light-hearted fun here, but the song ends up feeling like an inside joke that nobody else gets.

Even though there may be a few duds, The Foundation is still a solid debut album from a solid band. It’s a record that showcases everything the Zac Brown Band is: a tight-knit group of musicians who enjoy experimenting with an eclectic mix of styles.

3.5 Stars

Recommended Tracks: “Toes“, “Free“, “Highway 20 Ride

2 Pings

  1. [...] Zac Brown Band - The Foundation The Zac Brown Band could easily be described as country music’s feel-good story of 2008. A typically hard-working, long-touring regional band that has worked its way up to a major label record deal, the Atlanta based five-piece has already scored a top five hit on country radio with lead single “Chicken Fried.” Despite the band’s early success, however, its Atlantic debut, The Foundation, which features everything from Latino-infused flare to reggae breakdowns to radio-friendly country, sometimes blurs the line between diversity and inconsistency. — Pierce Greenberg [...]
  2. [...] the review of Zac Brown Band’s The Foundation by Pierce [...]
  1. Kelly
    November 20, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I absolutely could not agree more with this review. I really do like the album, but I see the same downside that you so artfully detail here.

  2. Drew
    November 20, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Like you said, “Free” is a really nice song, but the rest of the album, besides “Chicken Fried”, not so much in my opinion.

  3. Kelly
    November 20, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Drew, you dont think “Chicken Fried” is a bit too formulaic, or too full of the tired “slice of life” type of imagery?

  4. Nashville4U
    November 20, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    About to review this album as well. Zac has really jumped into the scene fast, I heard they put on a real good live show.

  5. Pierce
    November 20, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Here’s an interesting tid bit that didn’t fit into the review:

    Rumor has it that there is a “law” stating that if you see the ZBB in “the wild” (anywhere out on the road, not in a venue) then they HAVE to play at your request! How cool is that? There are some youtube videos of gas station performances to prove it.

  6. Steve Harvey
    November 20, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    I personally find this record extremely dull and uninvolving. Brown’s vocals sound far too laid-back and detached for my liking, and the songs are squarely perched in the middle of the road. It sounds like a three am jam from a bunch of guys who are on the verge of falling asleep. It’s charm eludes me.

  7. Rick
    November 20, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    I was pleasantly surprised when a new (to radio) group scored with a blatantly country song like “Chicken Fried” and zoomed up the charts, and especially with acoustic instruments. It stands as a rare song these days that I really enjoyed hearing on Top 40 country radio (along with Ashton Shepherd’s “Sounds So Good” and Randy Houser’s “Anything Goes”). One reason I like “Chicken Fried” is that the song reminds me of the old song “Chug A Lug” as performed by The Kentucky Headhunters.

    The other songs I’ve heard off this album haven’t impressed me near as much as “Chicken Fried” and most seem too laid back for their own good. A mellow vibe number is appreciated now and then, but here it sounds more like being stuck in a rut.

    Nice review Pierce, and you’ve confirmed I should take a pass on this one. Thanks!

  8. Jim Malec
    November 20, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    I like this album a bit more than some have indicated here. I thought the laid-back vibe was a refreshing break from music that is constantly trying to be in my face. I pretty much agree with the rating, though, just because some of this stuff seems more slick than it should be.

  9. Trailer
    November 20, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    I love the vocals and the band is pretty tight… it’s the songs that are the liability to me. Nothing stuck with me on the first two listens and a couple of songs turned me off completely. I’d rate it slightly above the Lost Trailers album.

  10. Paula_W
    November 21, 2008 at 8:20 am

    I was thinking about getting it for my son because he LOVES ‘Chicken Fried’. But after reading this review and comments I’m not sure he’d like the whole album.

  11. Kelly
    November 21, 2008 at 8:41 am

    Man, I guess I am in the minority here, as I really think “Chicken Fried” is the album’s liability. I just cant help but think that song is an out-take from Craig Morgan’s “What I like About Sunday” sessions…still love the album as a whole though, especially for the laid back vibe.

  12. Jim Malec
    November 21, 2008 at 8:44 am

    No, I agree with you Kelly. I find “Chicken Fried” a disappointing pander to radio compared to the rest of the album.

  13. Kelly
    November 21, 2008 at 9:16 am

    OK, I thought I was going nutso!

    An intersting aside: “Chicken Fried” garnered sizable amount of airplay in Dallas a couple of years ago, but it wasnt ZBB’s version, it was a live cut from a 9513 fave, and ZBB Georgia buds, Lost Trailers…I will admit that has made it harder for me to like the song also….

  14. TAYERS
    November 21, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Debut album? Maybe MAJOR LABEL debut. I think this is actually their third CD. I saw these guys last night in Memphis, and songs from The Foundation took up MAYBE half of the set list.

  15. dallas
    November 22, 2008 at 7:57 am

    We just got their album on Friday and its so awesome.

    Now that is a Country album.

    I do hope that the ZAC Brown band can make it in to Country Music.

  16. TAYERS
    November 22, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Good music is good music. One of the first things I learned about this band when I took the time to do so was that they don’t have any desire to fit into any set genre and aren’t part of the Nashville machine. They released this album independently in 2007 with the intent of making a good album period, not making a country album or reggae album. Suggesting that they took cues from Kenny Chesney in adding reggae flavor seems ignorant and a little ridiculous. I’m sure the thousands of people who have been listening to this band for years get “the joke that no one gets” in “Sic ‘Em on a Chicken.” It ‘s us new kids that didn’t know about Zac’s chickens or figs or Pete or fondness for Charlie Daniels or hadn’t heard the story that precedes live performances of the song who may have to do a little homework to fully appreciate the song (that’s the most atrocious sentence structure ever, I know). However, isn’t it reviewer’s job to do a little homework in order to understand the context of the album? I give this review two stars and a C- for effort.

  17. Pierce
    November 22, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Tayers – I did say that this was their Atlantic debut, so I’m well aware they’ve put out other CDs.

    I also didn’t say they took cues from Chesney – just pointing out that their song sounded like something he would record.

    If ZBB wanted to appeal to the same fans that “get” their jokes, then they should have just released independently again. Or, added a few more songs and have “Sic’em” as a bonus or hidden track.

    In my opinion, this is the major label debut of a regional band. That’s the context. There is a good chance “Chicken Fried” may go #1 this week and I assume that about 95% of the people who hear that song, like it, and subsequently buy the album will scratch their heads after “Sic’em”. (Like I did)

    But thanks for your criticism… next time I review an album, I’ll be sure to listen to the band’s complete back catalog and attend a live performance so I can get that effort grade up to an A. :-)

  18. TAYERS
    November 22, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Okay, now I give you an A+ for effort for responding to a comment over the weekend. And for only using a *little* sarcasm in the response. Very nicely done. After I posted my comment, I looked at it again and the word MIRANDAFAN came to mind. Scary.

  19. Pierce
    November 22, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Haha, no worries TAYERS.

    But to my credit, I did watch several youtube videos of the band. None of them had explanations of the songs, and some of them were just acoustic-only of Zac Brown. I wanted to see if Brown sounded as good live as he did on the record, and I think he did.

    The ZBB is actually playing tonight in Nashville, but unfortunately, there’s a little football game on at 8 (TTU vs. OU), so I’ll have to miss it.

  20. SW
    November 24, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    “Toes” is, in my humble opinion, a wonderful song. I love the matter-of-factness of “my ass in the sand.”

  21. jammin_jamey
    November 24, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Surprised no one mentioned “Whatever It Is”…Should be their next single and is a perfect fit for country radio. I know many artist catch flack for releasing a cookie-cutter tune, but the difference between ZBB and many other newcomers right now is that ZBB has a unique sound with a familar message, which makes them appealing to the masses and shows that they are “real” and not just another nameless face singing the same type of song.

    I really enjoyed the album and look forward to seeing them in concert this December. “Highway 20 Ride”, “Toes” and “Whatever It Is” are my favorite tracks.

    Enjoy the site guys!

  22. Kelly
    November 24, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    SW: Me too! An independent station in Dallas has actually been playing that track for a couple of years now and that lyric immediately caught my attention!

  23. David
    November 28, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Pierce:

    A couple of things:

    –Yes, “Sic ‘Em on a Chicken” is an inside joke that most new fans won’t get. As a fan who has been following the band for the last four years and saw them back when they were playing small-time shows (first time I saw them was at a frat party with about 20 people), I’ve heard them play that song at every show I’ve been to. Before playing it, he always describes the song as a “stupid” song that he wrote about his dog Pete, who is sort of the mascot for the band.

    –The other song you single out as weak is the song “Where the Boat Leaves From”. There’s also an explanation for this one. The Zac Brown Band plays a music event called “The Rock Boat Tour”. This song was written about and for this event, as you can probably tell from the lyrics.

    I do scratch my head about for the inclusion of these songs, or at least “Sic ‘Em”, but I would imagine that they were included for the original Zac followers like myself. He has a number of other songs that I would have liked to hear on this album, although I would expect them on future albums. Songs like “Every Little Bit”, “Better Day”, “On this Train” and more are all future hits that I would expect to hear in the professionally recorded in the future. They can be heard on his live “Rock Bus Tour” album.

    I’m glad you mention “Free” and “Highway 20 Ride” as those are probably his two strongest pieces that really show off his vocal ability. He’s a great guy and an even better performer. His CD doesn’t come close to showcasing his talents. You have to see him live to really grasp that.

  24. Johnny Nolan
    December 4, 2008 at 8:40 am

    I don’t get all of the tempo changes in “Chicken Fried”. They get a nice rhythm going and then break it up and go to different rhythms.

    These guys will not make it on the national scene.

  25. David
    December 5, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Johnny:

    You do realize “Chicken Fried” is a No. 1 hit for two weeks in a row right now right? I think they done made it onto the national scene. LOL. Sounds like the rest of the country disagrees with you.

  26. dallas
    December 6, 2008 at 8:34 am

    David.

    The Zac Brown Band is good.I have their new album and its a good one.

    Did you know that when Keith Urban goes on tour in 2009 Zac Brown Band will open for him.

    I wantto be at that concert bigtime and I will.

  27. Brooks
    December 12, 2008 at 9:08 am

    As a new listener(and fan) of ZBB, I find this album to be excellent. I tend to lean more toward traditional sounding country(Strait,Jackson et al)but couldn’t help but listen to this album throughout over and over. Would love to see them live.

  28. Matt B.
    December 12, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Brooks,

    They are pretty damn good live.

  29. Paula_W
    December 31, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    I got this for my son for Christmas. I’ve listened to it a couple of times. I like it overall.

    They are playing the Wildhorse in Nashville this weekend so I think we are gonna go up. I’ll let y’all know how it goes.

  30. Mayor Jobob
    January 7, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I never thought we’d here country songs like “Mary” again. This is good stuff!

  31. Web SMITH
    October 21, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    I recently attended ZBB concert in Charelston SC. I was really looking forward to it as was my wife. We were married in Sante Fe and played several songs by ZBB at our reception. But I have different feelings now. We had to sat so close to people beside us that we had to turn sideways the whole concert and the heat did not help. Then we decided to purcahse an item form ZBB to have autographed because that is the only thing they will autograph. It’s not as if the amount we paid for the tickets would not be enough but now we had to purchase one of their items and tshirts were $30 and we had to purchase a “passport” ? and have it stmped wirh a “red stamp”? then begin standing in line. This was a very long line and after an hour and a half it still had not moved. The “security” that looked like they were just bonded out of jail were going around telling people they would have to get out of line that did not have their red stamped passport or had not purchased only ZBB items for autograph. One ladfy had purchased a Tshirt of the girl that played with the band. She said I thought the girl was with the band. She had come with her daughters to shparone them and was trying to get this as a suprise for her daughter. Well she had to get out of line after an hour and a half of standing. I could see the band through a breezeway all drinking hanging out taking there time while the fans waited in line in extremly hot humid weather. After finally making up to the head of the line we couyld see the band at a table siging. A little security guy asked if we had our item to sign, like we could not waste the tim e of the ZBB, and then he looks at me and asks if I could wait on the otherside of the autotorium. I told him I had paid too much for tickets to sit on top of other people and stand in line 2 hours to see a band they did not give a damn about me and apparently had forgotten how they got where they are and hell no I wasnt going anywhere. My wife answered the same way. Then the rage filled up in me and I pointed at the band and said you are some ungrateful SOB’s and I would not wipe my ass with their autograph and turned and left with my wife. The Zac Brwon Band is dead as far as I am concerned. I found out they were not the personable down to earth family oriented band they potray in the music videos and songs rather they are a bunch of inconsiderit drunks as they depicted in their homemade video they played at intermission. I only wish I could go back and take there songs out of my reception. The ZBB has major problems, one is that they have forgotten themselves, the other is they show no respect for the presence of ladies, third is they have removed themselves form the population and are looking down at their fans in stead of looking them in the eyes. This ride ends just as quick as it begins and I think that your ride is going to end sooner than you think. Your music is not good enough to last forever.

  32. Barb
    November 6, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    I first went to see ZBB in March 2008 when CMT gave me free tickets to see them. I only knew one song (Chicken Fried) at the time, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

    I was blown away by their musical talent and their songs. I bought their Foundation CD after the concert and they have become one of my top two bands that I follow.

    I had the privledge of going on their ZBB Sailing Southern Ground Cruise Ship this past fall, and had the most wonderful experience with the entire band and other bands on the ship. They were all very pleasant to be around and each one of them took the time to “hang out” with us regular folk. They are so down to earth and they appreciate the fans.

    Their latest CD, You Get What You Give, is by far their best work yet. After listening to them play the songs on the cruise ship, I was anxious for the release of the CD, which came out a few weeks later.

    I enjoy listening to their music because it’s REAL stuff. They sing about LIFE and things that everyone can relate to.

    I definitely like the reggae and tropical flavor thrown into the mix as it does kinda remind me of Kenny Chesney….who is my other favorite singer.

    SO GLAD TO HEAR THAT ZBB AND KENNY WILL BE TEAMING UP FOR A 2011 TOUR – IT’S LIKE A FAMILY REUNION – ALL MY FAVORITE MUSICIANS IN ONE PLACE.

    THANKS GUYS – Barb

Tagged In This Article

// //

Current Discussion

  • Mike W: Really liking the new Ryan Bingham song, his last album really didnt do much for me, but this new song …
  • nm: Oh, the old Sutler. The first time I visited Nashville, I went to a New Year's Eve show there: Lonesome …
  • Tom: ...another "favorite child question". then again, what would the genre be without all the drama it's got to deal with. …
  • luckyoldsun: Dwight's had so many great songs. From memory, I'd have to name "Bakersfield" with Buck Owens, "Guitars, Cadillacs," "Nothing" and …
  • Scooter: Thanks Jonathon. Downloaded "Last Chance for a thousand years" and love it. Was unaware of that album.
  • Donald: The correct answer is of course, "Bury Me."
  • Leeann Ward: As far as I know, I have all of Dwight's albums. It's truly impossible to choose a favorite song, but …
  • Michael: I wonder if Kasey Chambers will be visiting Dr. Gwen Korovin for treatment of her vocal cords...
  • Dave D.: Just about any song off of Dwight's first three albums would qualify as a favorite; forced to pick one I'd …
  • Jack Williams: No. Not Owner of a Lonely Heart. I was hoping for better when I saw the article title …

Recently Reviewed Albums

  • deadmanstown
  • tom t hall storytellers
  • paulthorntooblessed
  • duhksbeyondtheblue
  • kelleymickwee
  • sandrarhodes
  • candi staton
  • sturgillsimpsonmetamodern