Regardless where we go in life, our roots ground us, inspire us to stay true to who we once were and propel us to forge ahead a future as bright and jarringly-comfortable as when we were kids. We can still change with the passing of the seasons and wish we hadn’t– but that’s the nature of finding who we were destined to become. In many ways, that’s exactly what the Zac Brown Band have done.
Their careers were founded upon the breezy warmth of the Georgia Pine, the crispy taste of chicken fried, cold beer adorning a Friday night, “a pair of jeans that fit just right and the radio up,” American-made symbols of convenience and comfortability. For many from the deep South, we experienced a similar upbringing. Zac Brown, with his honeyed vocal and melodies which float effortlessly on the water, mastered the craft of slow-burning, mellow and good-natured stories about hard-working men. He would later spin together such hits as “Toes,” “Whatever It Is,” “Knee Deep” and “Jump Right In.” Along the way, he, too, waxed vulnerable and emotional: “Goodbye in Her Eyes” and “Sweet Annie” remain among the band’s finest hours. But, then came 2015 and their genre-melding studio album, Jekyll + Hyde, a seemingly double-sided album which featured their signature, ’70s-influenced sounds (“Homegrown,” “Love You Easy,” “Remedy”) but also plenty of EDM (“Beautiful Drug”), hard-rock (“Heavy is the Head”), jazz (“Mango Tree”) and adult contemporary (“One Day”). They had all but abandon the template which made them headliners, subsequently alienating or confusing a significant portion of their fan base.
Don’t fret– they’ve come back home. With their fifth studio effort, the meager 10-track Welcome Home LP, they make damn sure to proclaim their “Roots,” that they are the “Real Thing” and here for the “Long Haul,” the message packs on thick but serves to set the tone for a disc that is mostly safe but warm and reassuring like a childhood blanket. Lead single “My Old Man” is one of the year’s most visceral and saccharine radio singles, a tribute to the influence of his father on him as he now steps into that role. “2 Places at 1 Time” and “Family Table” are mere decorations of rollicking soul and frame their innately progressive nature with charming simplicity, and meanwhile, “Start Over”–in which Zac Brown attests “we get so caught up we life, we lost that fire,” a seemingly defensive statement to their detractors–taps into their groovy funk of yesteryear. The meat of the album comes with “Your Majesty,” a magnificent guitar and fiddle-based story which reads as a story and observance about his wife. Of course, it could also double as a conversation with God and his journey to finding his faith again. “Trying to Drive,” featuring the mesmerizing vocal from Aslyn (of Pass the Jar), fits into the band’s wheelhouse but there is something unshakably earthy and affecting about the performance. Later, on a cover of John Prine’s “All the Best,” Kacey Musgraves lends her voice to backing harmonies to support a rather tender bookend to an otherwise emotionally-raw journey.
Welcome Home plays nicely, moving you in just the right places and getting you to bob your head in others. Even when the intent comes across rather oversensitive, there is something comfy and encouraging and kind about the whole shebang. Whatever their next move, Zac Brown have found their center once again.
Must-Hear Tracks: “Your Majesty,” “My Old Man,” “Roots,” “Trying to Drive,” “All the Best”