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Zac Brown Band - Welcome Home (Album Review)

Monday, 05 June 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

Hit or miss retreat from one of country music’s most experimental groups? Heartfelt collection of fan-pleasing treats that finds the genre nomads returning to their musical roots? Take a fair amount of the former and a little of the latter and that’s an adequate summation of ‘Welcome Home’, the fifth album by the Zac Brown Band. It’s easily the most reflective and surprisingly unadventurous record they’ve made.

Considering how much country artists worship their families and they place where they hang their stetsons, it’s a miracle any of them actually leave the homestead to go on tour. But since forming in 2002, Brown and his gang have dedicated a huge chunk of their lives to playing anywhere and everywhere, with the constant struggle to balance those conflicting lifestyles recalled throughout the autobiographical ‘Welcome Home’.

2 Places At 1 Time and Long Haul are informed by said tug of war, with Brown wishing he could divide himself to indulge both his loves on the former, while the impassioned Motown-country commitment of the latter shows he has all the chops to become a genuinely great soul singer should he desire.

Elsewhere, life at home and on the road are celebrated as the band recall their musical journey on the soaring Roots, while Family Table – with its bubbly Allman Brothers dual guitar and fiddle riff - celebrates the piece of wood where loved ones congregate and joyous memories are created.

With Brown now having an outlet for his genre-hopping restlessness via side project Sir Rosevelt, ‘Welcome Home’ has been heralded as a return to the style of the group’s early records after the multifaceted, divisive ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. My Old Man is a touching tribute to Brown’s late father and harks back to the band’s traditional country side, as does a cover of John Prine’s All The Best, with Kacey Musgraves adding some nice harmonies as the original is given a more sparse, confessional makeover.

That said, differences still exist between this effort and the group’s older material. Acoustic guitars, violin, piano and resplendent harmonies take centre stage again, but Dave Cobb’s production is much more polished than ‘The Foundation’ and these songs are very mainstream. Trying To Drive and The Real Thing boast big radio friendly choruses and the same country-rock aesthetic of Homegrown, ‘Jekyll and Hyde’s’ most commercially successful track.  Aping its style elicits the feeling the group are in damage control mode, trying to appease those who were put off by their exploratory forays.

Further evidence of such a calculated approach can be found on Your Majesty, a song whose melody is so similar to Homegrown it surely can’t be an accident. Likewise, the awful Start Over attempts to recall past favourite Toes and offer a joint-smoking slice of escapism. But it’s so uninspired and downright boring it’s like a third rate Zac Brown tribute band trying to write an original Zac Brown Band song.

Perhaps the main problem here, though, is how one dimensional this record is. Its 10 tracks are mostly enjoyable, but they’re also predominantly mellow and there’s no good time faster numbers, none of the band’s idiosyncratic eccentricities or grin-inducing singalongs. It’s as if they’ve willingly clipped their own wings and the result is akin to being served your favourite meal and finding there’s only one ingredient on the plate. Sure, it tastes nice, but where’s the rest?  

That’s the lasting aftertaste from ‘Welcome Home’ and it’s ironic that, while crafting a record that’s focused on the aforementioned balancing act, the Zac Brown Band have forgotten to nail the wide ranging stylistic and tonal equilibrium they perfected on their first two albums.





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