There is no denying the Zac Brown Band has made significant headway in the country music world. In eight years, according to Billboard.com, the six-piece group has managed to put out four albums and four number one singles, not to mention landing performance spots with a wide-ranging collection of prominent artists, including Sugarland, Willie Nelson and ZZ Top. Their success is hardly a matter of chance, however. Much of it is due to a recent touring stint which attracted a solid, grassroots Dave Matthews Band-esque fan base and led Rolling Stone Magazine to comment, “..these Georgia boys know how to put on a show.” Moreover, leading man Zac Brown’s training in classical guitar and his skilled, hand-picked musicians ensure the focus truly is on musical quality – a focus evident in their latest album You Get What You Give.
The hour-long masterpiece kicks off with “Let it Go,” an easygoing, jam-out tune. Brown’s swaggering vocals range from low to high, allowing glimpses every now and then at the solid foundation of musical confidence underlying all his tracks. The band then takes it down a bit with “No Hurry,” which is the musical equivalent of a back massage. The lyrics champion a laid-back, procrastinator’s view, to which many college students can relate. Words aren’t the only element of this song that convey a rocking-chair vibe; the listener can physically feel his or herself relaxing into the music as the lead guitar slides gently from one chord to the next at the bridge.
Though “I Play the Road” falls into the trap of clich? country song topics (driving, cars), the music’s flawlessness renders it adrift down memory lane rather than a stop-and-go backup on an over-driven thoroughfare. “Cold Hearted” slows down the pace next, serving as a necessary building block in the architecture of the album, which follows a pattern from fast to slow to fast again. The feisty, energetic “Whiskey’s Gone” follows in suit, lifting the pace back up with Jimmy De Martini’s quick fiddling skills. “Well I stumbled my way down to the local bar/ where I saw the devil in my glass/ The bartender told me it was time to go/ I told him that he could lick my sack,” belts Brown. The lyrics seem crude on paper, but become chuckle-worthy in the rollicking, devil-may-care context of the song.
You Get What You Give draws in outside talent in “Knee Deep” and “As She’s Walking Away,” which feature Jimmy Buffet and Alan Jackson, respectively. The vocal variation is especially welcome in the latter song, as it turns what would be a mid-album slump into a solid plane from which to launch “Who Knows,” a gritty, high-energy behemoth of a track. At ten minutes, one would expect to zone out. Not so. In a feat of tricky guitar-playing, instrumental solos, and apocalyptic lyrics (“Who knows/ what the thunder and lightning will bring…Maybe the sun will shine no more”), the band grabs your attention and refuses to let it go until the last drum hit.
Sure, there are several other similar-sounding groups out there. But ultimately, the Zac Brown Band deserves respect for upholding the integrity of their genre. Their sound is reminiscent of the golden age of country, when Brooks & Dunn, not T-Swift and Carrie Underwood, dominated the stage. You won’t hear any hybrid country-pop tunes from these guys. You Get What You Give just offers a soulful voice, pleasant melodies, honest lyrics and that classic fiddle-and-steel guitar combo that has come to define pure country.
Five out of five stars.