My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Zac Brown Band – ‘Uncaged’

The Zac Brown Band’s music is difficult to categorize. While much of it is firmly rooted in country music, it is also heavily influenced by Southern rock and reggae, and at times it also reminds me of what Top 40 and adult contemporary radio used to sound like back in the 1970s. Because their selections tend to be eclectic, I’m always a little apprehensive when they release a new album, figuring it is only a matter of time before they release something that I don’t like. I’ll also admit that I was initially put off by Uncaged’s creepy cover art by Brandon Maldonado, which depicts what looks like a demonic representation of the Virgin Mary, and which is titled “Our Lady of Merciful Fate”. Cover art aside, however, Uncaged is a solid collection of tunes, though it isn’t quite as satisfying as the band’s previous two releases.

Once again Keith Stegall shares production duties with Zac Brown, and the band members all had a hand in writing ten of the album’s eleven tracks, and once again they’ve managed to push the boundaries of country music while maintaining a freshness that continues to elude the music of most of their peers. The album opens with the Caribbean-flavored “Jump Right In”, a catchy and enjoyable, though not remotely country number. The Caribbean theme is revisited a few tracks later with “Island Song”, a fun but lightweight summertime number that is the album’s only song not written by any of the band members.

The album’s best track is the current single “The Wind”, a bluegrass-tinged, fast-paced number that Occasional Hope reviewed last month. It is quite different from anything that the band has done previously and the sort of song I never expected to hear from them. Nothing else on the album comes as close to traditional country, which is a slight disappointment because I’d really like to hear more music in this vein from them. They push the envelope further on a few other tracks, which unfortunately don’t work as well. The Southern-rock title track is a bit too heavy on the electric guitars for my taste, though it is probably a good number to jam onstage. Likewise, I could have done without the R&B flavored “Overnight” with guest artist Trombone Shorty, which really sounds out-of-place in this collection.

The bulk of the album sounds similar to the band’s first two major label releases and all of the songs are worth listening to. “Sweet Annie” reminds me a lot of “Colder Weather” and is a good candidate for a single release, and the fast-paced “Natural Disaster”, which has a beat similar to John Denver and Emmylou Harris’ “Wild Montana Skies” is a particular favorite of mine. “Goodbye In Her Eyes” reminds me of the kind of song Blackhawk used to do; it too is a potential hit single. The album’s last two tracks, “Day that I Die” with guest artist Amos Lee, and “Last But Not Least”, which the band co-wrote with Mac McAnally, are both excellent but probably aren’t commercial enough to be sent to radio.

Despite a few missteps, Uncaged is a good example of why one shouldn’t judge a book — or an album — by its cover. While I prefer The Foundation and You Get What You Give, Uncaged has grown on me with repeated listenings and there is more than enough here to keep Zac Brown Band fans satisfied.

Grade: B+

7 responses to “Album Review: Zac Brown Band – ‘Uncaged’

  1. Occasional Hope July 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    I don’t like everything they do, but they’re nearly always interesting.

  2. Greg July 19, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    I like pretty much everything that they have done. They sound new and fresh on the radio while still staying true to their roots. I like that they sound Genuine and not like they’re trying too hard to please the masses.

    But this does have to be the worst album cover ever!

  3. J.R. Journey July 19, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    These guys quickly took Sugarland’s place as my favorite mainstream act in country music today. I don’t love the album cover – never was a big fan of baroque crap like that – but then I never bought an album because I liked the cover art anyway. This is my favorite country release of 2012 so far. “Sweet Annie” is the strongest track, you gotta love those melodious harmonies and Zac Brown has made those kinds of apologetic tales of wanderlust his wheelhouse. I also like “Goodbye In Her Eyes”, “Natural Disaster”, and “Overnight” a lot too.

  4. Ken Johnson July 20, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Marketing 101: Make your album (CD) cover look appealing to the target audience. Can’t imagine that even today’s bizarre breed of country fans will appreciate this.

    Not only is the band’s logo difficult to decipher but you cannot easily read the name of the CD. If this CD was stocked on the end display of a big box or discount store I’ll wager most country fans would not even notice it.
    It looks like some type of rock/metal album.

    Idiots.

  5. Ben Foster July 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    I don’t get the cover art either. Solid album though, with “The Wind” and “Day That I Die” being my two favorites.

  6. luckyoldsun July 20, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    From the cover, I’d expect the album to feature a lot of loud, distorted electric guitars and a singer who screams a lot.

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