Zac Brown first appeared on my radar a few years ago when he collaborated with Dave Grohl. I set about exploring the back catalogue as I often do, and was pleasantly surprised to find music that was equal parts country rock and classic rock.
Brown and band have always explored a wide variety of musical territory, and have a very diverse fan base due to that. Here, on The Owl – the bands sixth studio album – they add a very heavy dose of modern pop music to the mix, opting for a very commercial sound.
Brown has a voice that works so well, no matter what style of music is backing him, and that is no different here. But for me, I like the muddier down home country vibes far better than the bubblegum pop – Opening track, “The Woods”, is bright and upbeat. It’s a solid opener, and let’s the listener know exactly what they’re in store for.
“Need This” follows suit well. There’s some excellent percussion used throughout, and some excellent guitar parts. “OMW” has me feeling like I’ve picked up the entirely wrong album. This is a very polarising track – frankly, it leans way to hard in to mainstream pop for me.
“Someone I Used To Know” is a bit of a course correction – although, the mainstream/commercial vibes remain. The voice is gold, and the harmonies are very well executed. “Me and the Boys in the Band” is far more up my alley. The guitar is nice and fuzzy, the vocals are tremendous, and the song is all about having a good time. This is the standout track.
“Finish What We Started” enters the ballad zone, and sees a guest appearance by Brandi Carlile – who’s voice adds even more softness to an already tender song. “God Given” is an example of what happens when southern rock is combined with funk and even rap (to a degree) – and the results probably aren’t as bad as you might think.
“Warrior” is the best set of lyrics on offer, but it doesn’t do a great deal for me musically. “Shoofly Pie” brings back the southern rock shuffle, and it’s this style that really works best for Zac Brown Band for me – accessible, something akin to a modern day Skynyrd.
“Already On Fire” is kind of brilliant. There’s some sweet guitar licks on offer, and the whole thing is held together by some fun honky think styles piano. Again, the vocals are superb.
Putting a bow on the album is “Leaving Love Behind” – a ballad that is driven by the exceptional vocals and some piano backing. The whole track is lifted by some excellent backing harmonies towards the end.
There are moments on The Owl that I truly didn’t like, but the four or five tracks that I did enjoy – two of which I loved – really helped level the playing field.
This won’t be for everybody, and that’s fine.