Tag Archives: Zac Brown Band

My Top 13 Songs of 2017 So Far

Editor’s Note: I wrote “my” instead of “Country Exclusive’s” for a reason; this does not necessarily reflect the views of our entire site. Also, these are not, and I repeat, not, in any order. Finally, with the exception of one song which I felt it would be idiotic to leave out, these are all from stuff we have covered in some fashion, either by a full-length review or perhaps through a feature in our “Memorable Songs from Overlooked Albums” pieces. Normally, I would restrict this to stuff one of us has actually written about, but that would leave out one song which, like I say, it would be a glaring sin not to bring up here. So take all this into consideration, and feel free to leave your own lists of songs and thoughts about these in the comments below!

Aaron Watson: “Clear Isabel”

From Vaquero
The first song to really blow my mind in 2017, this is a great and timely story about Isabel and her father, Mariano, who flee to America to escape the cartels of Mexico. Isabel ends up married to the narrator of the song, but her father is deported and later gunned down. It’s an honest and heartbreaking look at immigration, not to mention a brilliant song. Even better with the instrumental prelude, “Mariano’s Dream.”

Jaime Wyatt: “Wishing Well”

From Felony Blues
Jaime Wyatt is probably the name I’m most excited about breaking out in 2017. She has a way of singing about hardship that still manages to put a smile on your face, and this is just a stellar song that gets better every time I hear it.

Natalie Hemby: “Cairo, IL”

This one comes off Puxico, which we didn’t review in full, but it was partly responsible for the “Memorable Songs” features because this track about the lonely, forgotten river town of Cairo, Illinois, is one of the best songs of the year and should by no means be overlooked.

Jason Eady: “Barabbas”

From Jason Eady’s self-titled album
Purely from a songwriting standpoint, this has to be the cleverest thing to come out this year, telling us the story of the man freed by the crucifixion of Jesus, yet never mentioning Jesus or religion, and instead allowing the song to be a timeless track for everyone, although connecting even more deeply with those of faith.

Angaleena Presley: “Dreams Don’t Come True

From Wrangled
This just blew me away on the first listen; who’s going to tell you, especially at the beginning of their record, that look, dreams don’t come true, and don’t believe anyone who says otherwise? But it’s Angaleena Presley’s reality, and credit her for confronting it head-on to deliver us something so powerfully painful and honest.

Angaleena Presley: “Wrangled”

Also from Wrangled
Angaleena Presley has the distinction of being the only one on the list with two entries, but this song is equally deserving. From the wonderful melody to the thought-provoking lyrics about being “wrangled” by her life and husband, this song stands out just as much as “Dreams Don’t Come True.”

Brad Paisley: “Gold All Over the Ground”

From Love and War
What, a mainstream name like Brad Paisley? Yes, that’s what I said. This is Paisley’s musical adaptation of a poem composed by Johnny Cash in the 1960’s, and they don’t make love songs like this anymore. Between the poetry of Cash and the arrangement of Paisley, it has definitely earned its place among the best songs so far in 2017.

Colter Wall: “Kate McCannon

From Colter Wall’s self-titled album
There were many outstanding songs on Colter Wall’s debut record, I just picked the one that shined a tiny bit brighter than the rest.

Chris Stapleton: “Either Way”

From From a Room, Volume 1
I didn’t always think Chris Stapleton showed emotion on his new album–sometimes he just belted songs, and they lost a little of the passion. But this is one moment where he absolutely killed it, and this version might be better than the original LeeAnn Womack version.

The Steel Woods: “Straw in the Wind”

From Straw in the Wind
What a dark, ominous tale–this one comes from one of our collaborative reviews, and Brianna and I both agreed that this story of a town where strangers “disappear like straw in the wind” is a standout of the record.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: “If we Were Vampires”

Yeah, here’s the one I didn’t review, but this is one of the best songs of Isbell’s career, and when I said they don’t make love songs like that anymore about Paisley’s, I guess Isbell proved me wrong. He mentions all the details he loves about his wife, and more than that, he makes you think of death as a gift because it allows you to be a better lover and make the moments last. What a beautiful and morbid picture of love; I’ve never been sad, happy, and scared while listening to a love song before, but that’s what Jason Isbell does here.

Kasey Chambers: “Jonestown

From Dragonfly
The standout of Chambers’ recent double album, this one deals with hardship and discrimination and tells a great story. Probably the most underrated and least known one on the list.

Trisha Yearwood: “Maggie’s Dream”

This one is from the Gentle Giants album, and like I said before when I mentioned this song, I don’t care that it’s a cover, it’s still one of the best songs of the year. Trisha Yearwood delivered a better rendition of an already great song, and she’s earned her place on this list.

Honorable Mentions

  • Jason Eady: “Black Jesus”
  • John Moreland: “Love is Not an Answer”
  • Lauren Alaina: “Same Day, Different Bottle”
  • Zac Brown Band: “All the Best”
  • Kelleigh Bannen: “Church clothes”
  • Rhiannon Giddens: “Better Get it Right the First Time”
  • Sam Outlaw: “Everyone’s Looking For Home”

Album Review: Zac Brown Band–Welcome Home

Rating: 7/10

My relationship with the Zac Brown Band has been a storied one, and this is one time I’m not even going to try and separate my thoughts as a reviewer from my thoughts as a fan because I’ve been a loyal Zac Brown Band fan from the very beginning. I loved their first three albums and their experimentation with Dave Grohl. When Jekyll + Hyde came out of left field, with its genre-hopping and sending EDM songs to country radio, I was less than enthused by it, especially after Uncaged. However, I should say that that album had some very fine tracks, and more than anything else, my issues with it had to do with the length, as well as the way it felt like a Zac Brown solo project and not the Zac Brown Band. There wasn’t enough fiddle, there weren’t enough harmonies, and even though there are some really standout tracks on that record, it’s just not the Zac Brown Band. So yeah, as a fan, I wanted them to return to their roots–no, not necessarily to country, but just to being the Zac Brown Band again.

So, it is with mixed feelings that I write this, after giving Welcome Home several listens. You have to give Zac Brown credit; he listened to the uproar from his extremely loyal fans and basically did a 180, reversing the band back to their country roots. Hell, the first song off this thing is even called “Roots,”–and that’s where the problem with this starts. It’s all so calculated and forced, and you can tell, at least for much of this record, that even though Zac’s catering to his fans instead of lying to them, his heart is not in this. That’s why I can’t separate my thoughts as a reviewer because most of these songs aren’t really that bad. Yeah, there’s some weak lyrical content, in “Real Thing” especially–that line “genuine, made in the USA” almost screams contrived. “Family Table” suffers from weak lyrics too, and it’s also just a little cheesy; it’s another case of the band taking this whole getting back to their roots thing too far. I could say all that, and it’s all true. But that’s not ultimately my problem with this record. My problem is I don’t hear the passion and heart in Zac Brown throughout this record that I used to on his earlier albums and yes, that I did in places on their last album. Ultimately, an artist should make the music they want, fans be damned, and I’m just not sure Zac Brown is anymore. That’s no excuse for releasing “Beautiful Drug” to country radio, especially after he said he wouldn’t, but making music like this just to appease his fans isn’t the answer either, even if I’m one of the fans who wished for it.

Despite that, there are some really good things about this album. The fact that they did a 180 of course means that once again, you hear harmonies and fiddles, and they do sound like a band. That’s refreshing to hear, and this album is very consistent throughout. As songs themselves, some of these are really solid and even great–in fact, it reminds me of a debut album, where it’s not perfect, but you can see potential. It’s just that we know what this band is capable of, so it goes back to being calculated and not living up to the potential of the band.

And then you have those moments where their passion does shine through, like on “Start Over,”–yes, we always have one beach song on every Zac Brown Band album, but if we didn’t, would that be right? This one is about getting back to a good place in a relationship with a lover and getting away to the beach. It’s one place where they all sound like they’re having fun and enjoying what they’re singing about. I can also hear that in “Long Haul” and “Your Majesty,” both of which are nice love songs and definitely an improvement over the filler love songs on their last album. “My Old Man” is another standout, featuring lots of nice harmonies, acoustic guitar, and fiddle. That cover of John Prine’s “All the Best” is exceptional, and it’s here, on the album closer, that I can really hear the passion in Zac Brown that came out in their earlier songs. Actually, if we’re being honest, I didn’t know it was a cover at first, and Zac Brown made me believe this song when I heard it.

There’s not really a bad song here, and even on the weaker tracks, it’s still nice to hear the harmonies and the country instrumentation. I’m glad to see the Zac Brown Band once again sounding like a band. But it’s glimpses of what they could be, popping up to remind you what they’re like when they’re all fully engaged, which ultimately just make this album a nice, pleasant listen instead of a great, victorious return to form for them. I still enjoy it because at the end of the day, they make some fine music, and I’m also just a Zac Brown Band apologist. But I want to hear more than good songs, I want to hear the heart and soul of this band and Zac Brown, and I don’t on this record, at least not on most of it. And as a Zac Brown Band fan, I’m going to listen to Welcome Home quite a lot, and it will probably grow on me because I just like them–but I’m going to go ahead and say it before my bias as a fan clouds my judgment. If Zac Brown’s heart lies in EDM music, or rock music, or anywhere outside his roots, then that’s where he should be, and I’m starting to think that despite this album’s name, home might not be where he wants to be anymore.

Listen to Album

Reflecting on: Zac Brown Band–Uncaged

Before I discuss their new album, I’d like to take a moment to talk about their masterpiece Uncaged, which is one of my favorite albums of all time.

Release Date: 2012
Style: grounded in country, but really with a little bit of everything, from reggae to country rock to bluegrass to R&B
Who Might Like This Album: really anyone, because there’s really something for everyone here…so, fans of good music
Standout Tracks: “Goodbye in Her Eyes,” “Sweet Annie,” “Overnight,” “Natural disaster,” “The Wind,” “Island Song,” “Lance’s Song”
Reflections: I just listed tracks 3 through 9 on this album, and yeah, it’s pretty much amazing song after amazing song right through that entire stretch. But really there’s not a bad song here, and if I were reviewing this today, I’d have to give it a ten. You can say what you want about this band and their genre bending, but it works fine on “Island Song” which is all but reggae country–by now I think ZBB have recorded enough songs to start this subgenre–and it works to absolute perfection on “Overnight,” which is a straight-up R&B seduction song. I think their last album took this too far in places, and it was certainly a jarring listen, but the length and the fluffy love songs always bothered me more than the exploration of other genres by this band. They needed a song on that record like “Colder Weather” or like “Sweet Annie,” the amazing standout love song from this album, certainly country and featuring lots of fiddle and the great harmony the band is known for. I can’t say enough about this album, and I don’t know if they’re ever going to top it, but the day they do will be incredible because this record is fantastic, and if they can manage to produce a better one, we should all be lining up to buy it. If somehow you have never sat down and listened to Uncaged, in its entirety and all its glory, please do it now. This is one of the best country records to have graced our presence in the past ten years, and maybe the best one out of the mainstream in that time frame. And by the way, when they say, “country should evolve,” this is the type of stuff they should mean–because this is how you stay grounded in country while delivering something fresh and unique and lasting.

Listen to Album

Artists I Wish Would Take a Hint From Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley was one of the first artists that got me into country music. He may not be your favorite–and that’s okay–but you can’t argue with songs like “Who Needs Pictures,” “we Danced,” and certainly “Whiskey Lullaby.” He was one of the people that I heard on the radio in the late 90’s and early 2000’s that made me fall in love with this genre. He really disappointed me on his last two albums; they weren’t terrible, but they just weren’t Brad Paisley. You could tell he was trying to be something he was not. His guitar play was noticeably lacking, and he seemed to be veering toward chasing radio success. On his latest album, Love and War, he has gone back to being himself, and that’s just refreshing. There was a discussion on SCM about whether or not Brad will make it into the Hall of Fame, and all that remains to be seen, but he can’t do anything better than be himself, and that’s what he has done on his latest record. It got me thinking and talking about a lot of the artists that got me into country in the first place. A lot of them made some fine music earlier in their careers but have since started to kill their legacies by chasing short-term success and promoting mindless singles to radio. They could learn from Paisley, as well as Tim McGraw, who has also returned to form recently. Zac Brown Band could easily be talked about on either side of the conversation here, but I’ll reserve judgment until May 12th and hope I can include them in with Paisley and McGraw. Anyway, let me know if there are any artists you’d add to this list, as these are just the ones whose decline in quality over the years has personally bother me the most.

Dierks Bentley

Why, why can’t we get back the Dierks Bentley of “Up on the ridge” and “Riser?” Yep, “riser” was released in 2015; even then, he hadn’t sold out. There’s not even any point in him selling out this way–he was getting airplay anyway. Black is certainly not the most terrible album I’ve heard in recent memory, but it’s one of the most disappointing because I really thought we could count on Dierks Bentley. This is what he is capable of.

Blake Shelton

I own a Blake Shelton album called Loaded: the Best of Blake Shelton. Ironically, that album was released just prior to the beginning of his stint on The Voice, and so, essentially, it really is the best of Blake. Anyway, that record is great. But people won’t remember that; he’s done his best to eradicate all that in the past five years with the majority of his singles. I remember when I first heard “Austin,” and it blew me away. Same goes for “Don’t Make Me.” Blake does a lot for traditional country and music of substance from his chair on The Voice, and I just wish he’d take his own advice because if he did, I think he could be remembered for more than his reality show and his obnoxious tweets.

Keith Urban

Those of you that are shocked I own a Blake Shelton album, brace yourselves for this…I own no less than six–yep six–Keith Urban records…I’ll give you a moment to digest the fact that I’m not a Sturgill apologist, yet I own six Keith Urban records…now then. Keith Urban was a prime example of what good pop country is supposed to be–right up till the single “Little Bit of Everything” and his American Idol run (coincidence, Blake?). He used to write much of his material as well, and whether you enjoyed it or not, he was real. Keith Urban might be the most disappointing artist in the mainstream for me because he is just simply better than the crap he is releasing to radio–and it’s not as if he was ever especially traditional in the first place, so I don’t exactly see radio not playing him if he went back to more meaningful material. It literally boils down to laziness in his case, and that’s unfortunate.

Kenny Chesney

He is better than this too, even if you’re sick of beach music. His last record was absolutely boring and lifeless. Even Chesney sounds bored. I miss the days of “There Goes my Life” and “Old Blue chair.” Like Brad and Keith, even if Kenny isn’t your favorite, he used to at least be himself.

Eli Young Band

I remember when Eli Young Band were a cool Texas band releasing equally cool new music instead of shit like “Turn it On.” Yeah, that is basically all.

Honorable Mentions

  • Josh Turner–His last album wasn’t quite disappointing enough to piss me off on this level, it was mainly just boring, but if he releases more like this, he’ll make the list.
  • Little big town–I wish they’d get back to themselves, but I didn’t enjoy them enough when they were themselves to be as annoyed by them now. Also, The Breaker was a small step in the right direction.
  • the Band Perry–I don’t think them coming back to themselves is even possible at this point, so I don’t see the point listing them here.

Single Review: Zac Brown Band’s “My Old Man”

Rating: 9/10
What a great day in the lives of Zac Brown Band fans, one of which I’ll unashamedly admit is me. After producing three great albums, including 2012’s excellent Uncaged, the band, or more accurately Zac Brown himself, disappointed the majority of their fan base with 2015’s Jekyll + Hyde. It was not exactly a bad album, and there were even some great songs from it, but it was all over the place in terms of style and seemed more like a Zac Brown solo project at times. Brown promised a return to their roots with their upcoming album Welcome Home, already made promising by the choice of producer Dave Cobb, and thankfully, the first single delivers.

“My Old Man” sees the narrator looking back on the life lessons his father taught him, as well as reflecting on how to be a better man and pass those lessons on to his son. It reminds me thematically of George strait’s “Love Without End, Amen.” The acoustic guitar in this song is gorgeous, and there is some great fiddle play too, a sound that was noticeably and sadly lacking on their last album. Also, this song showcases the great harmony of the band that was forsaken all too often on Jekyll + Hyde. In short, this is where they belong, and zac Brown band fans everywhere should be joyful.