Album Review: 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.
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.
Recommended Tracks: “Toes“, “Free“, “Highway 20 Ride“
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