My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Wyatt Durrette

Single Review: Zac Brown Band – ‘Homegrown’

homegrownEven though their music is not always strictly country, the Zac Brown Band has been one of the few bright spots at country radio in recent years. Much of their music to date has been a hybrid of country and the type of pop played on Top 40 radio stations back in the 70s. With “Homegrown”, their first release since joining forces with Big Machine, they seem to be branching out in a slightly different direction.

Whether it’s due to the label change or new co-producer Jay Joyce, this record sounds a bit different than the others. For one thing, the production is a bit louder with heavy emphasis in the intro on drums and fuzzy electric guitars. I couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed upon hearing those opening notes, fearing that it would be another one of country radio’s typically dull and overloud offerings. Things improve, however, once the song gets underway with Zac Brown’s unmistakable voice. There’s a little banjo and fiddle thrown into the mix, but neither is featured prominently. Sonically, it isn’t structured like a country song at all, but the tune is very catchy and before you know it you’ll be tapping your toes in spite of yourself. The lyrics, about a protagonist who is more than content to smell the roses and enjoy his lot in life, are on the light side, but at least provide a theme that is country, even if the sound isn’t.

Written by Zac Brown with Niko Moon and bandmate Wyatt Durrette, seems more like a feel-good summertime record rather that a January release, but it’s apparently struck a chord with both radio and fans. It currently resides at #4 on the charts, only ten days after its release. It looks like it’s going to be a monster hit. I wouldn’t rank it among the Zac Brown Band’s best work, but there is nothing terribly objectionable about it — and these days, that’s a big plus.

Listen to it here.

Grade: B

Single Review: Zac Brown Band – ‘All Alright’

all alright epI was really looking forward to hearing the latest from the always eclectic Zac Brown Band, now going it alone having cut their ties with Atlantic. Their new single comes from an EP released digitally in December last year and on CD on 19 May, produced by rock musician Dave Grohl.

The song, composed by band members Brown, John Driskell Hopkins and Jimmy DeMartini with Brown’s frequent co-writer Wyatt Durrette and Eric Church, is extremely well written, from the viewpoint of a man who has lost in love. He complains,

You made me think you were mine
Then you changed your mind
I’m lost as a feather in a hurricane

The big chorus is set to a catchy and memorable meolody which should make this a radio hit, as Zac bemoans the way.

It was all alright
Now it’s all all wrong
That’s just how it goes when you’re gone

But perhaps he is not all that heartbroken after all, as he confesses

I guess God did not make me a one woman man
I’d have a lot to give
If I still gave a damn
That’s just how it goes when you’re wrong

Zac Brown’s passionate vocal is well supported by his bandmates’ excellent harmonies. Unfortunately, the instrumentation is muddy and rock-sounding, with an intrusive electric guitar, no doubt the influence of their new producer. This is a genuinely good song, but I would like it so much better with an acoustic or at least solidly country-rock arrangement. Having said that, the production is still understated compared to some of the dreck out there, and perhaps I wouldn’t dislike it as much if it didn’t start with the intro, but that seems like faint praise. Country radio generally loves the Zac Brown Band, with only the bluegrass of ‘The Wind’ failing to make the top couple of spots on the Billboard chart, and this should do well for them too.

So, an A-worthy song, fine vocals, but unappealing musical backings, average out the grade at:

B+ for me. Those with more rock-tinged tastes will probably have this as an A.

Listen and decide for yourself:

Single Review – Zac Brown Band – ‘No Hurry’

In the ongoing battle for group supremacy in country music, Zac Brown Band should win every battle. I love their tendency to stick to a more traditional sound and sing songs that aren’t riddled with clichés. They’re a much-needed breath of fresh air to offset the watered down sound of Lady Antebellum and the pretty boy flare of Rascal Flatts. Plus, as entertainers and musicians, there is hardly a better mainstream country act around.

But as more and more singles keep getting released and hitting #1 (“Keep Me In Mind” marked their seventh consecutive trip to the top and eighth overall), I’ve noticed the freshness of their sound has settled somewhere around routine. When you’ve set the bar as high as they have, it’s difficult to continue to show growth when you’re just consistently great.

But like any great act, there’s bound to be some missteps along the way. For the fifth single from the band’s latest album You Get What You Give, “No Hurry” is a bit of a let down. For all the outstanding album cuts (I’m looking at you “Let It Go” and “Martin”) on the project, I’m baffled this one will have its day at radio in place of some truly excellent songs.

Co-written by Zac Brown with James Otto and Wyatt Durrette, “No Hurry” is basically a laundry list of items the protagonist needs to accomplish but isn’t in a rush to complete:

You know my old car needs washing

And the front yard needs a trim

And the telephone keeps ringing

And the bossman knows I know its him

And the bills ain’t gonna pay themselves

No matter anyway

Cause I ain’t in no hurry today

Here’s the problem – these aren’t a particularly attention grabbing list of items to sing about. List songs are the hardest to sell because if they’re not exciting, there ceases to be a point. And “No Hurry” fits into that category. If the opening lyrics cannot hold the attention of the listener, and these don’t hold mine, than you know something is wrong.

As the song progresses, the lyrics take a turn from the idea of this person not being in a hurry for daily activities and errands to not being in a rush to ascend to heaven:

When I must return

To the cold cold ground

Have ’em take their time

When they lay this sinner down

Heaven knows that I ain’t perfect

I’ve raised a little cain

And I plan to raise a whole lot more

Before I hear those angels sing

(Gonna get right with the lord)

But there’ll be hell to pay

But I ain’t in no hurry

The idea of living it up while you’re still on earth is predictable and bordering on cliché. As evidenced by their lazy execution, the writers are aptly reiterating what we’ve heard countless times before without offering us anything new. And such a poor execution is quite baffling from writers as talented as these.

But the one saving grace for “No Hurry” is the production. I thoroughly enjoy the fiddle and guitar work as it accomplishes the task of drawing the listener in and keeping them from turning the dial as soon as the song comes on. Anytime I get to hear fiddle front and center on a mainstream country single these days is a cause for celebration. Too bad the concept for the song doesn’t follow suit.

Grade: C 

Occasional Hope’s Top Ten Singles of 2011

While it wasn’t a great year for country music, there were some definite signs of life, and some very good songs made their way across the airwaves. A few were even hits. Here are my favorite singles this year:

10. ‘Look It Up – Ashton Shepherd’
Ashton comes across like a modern Loretta Lynn in this scornful rejoinder to a cheating spouse. Forgiveness is not an option. Although it was a top 20 hit and just about her biggest to date, I expected more commercial success from this sassy number, written by Pistol Annie Angaleena Presley with Robert Ellis Orrall.

9. ‘Colder Weather’ – Zac Brown Band
The Georgia band is one of the most artistically adventurous acts in country music, and this is one of their finest records. A complex lyric depicts a couple separated by the man’s driving job; she seems keener than he does on their being together. It was inspired by co-writer Wyatt Durrette’s own thwarted romance with a girl who struggled with the travel demanded by a music career. The production neatly marries an understated piano-led first verse with rock elements as the protagonist’s emotions rise. It was another #1 hit for the band.

8. ‘In God’s Time’ – Randy Houser
Rich-voiced singer-songwriter Randy Houser released his finest effort to date this year with this gently understated expression of faith in God, whatever may happen. A gentle piano-led accompaniment provides effective support. This was intended to be the lead single for Houser’s third album for Show Dog Universal, but it did not do as well as hoped, and Houser has now left the label. He has since signed to indie label Broken Bow, so hopefully he will be able to continue releasing mauic of this caliber.

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Single Review: Zac Brown Band – ‘Colder Weather’

In many ways, the Zac Brown Band reminds me of the sort of act that could frequently be heard on Top 40 AM radio stations in the 1970s when artists such as Mac Davis, Ronnie Milsap, Anne Murray, and Crystal Gayle were fixtures at the top of both the country and pop charts. Though the boys from Georgia are more firmly rooted in country music than their 1970s counterparts, it’s not difficult to imagine them achieving the same kind of crossover success with many of their records. Their current release, “Colder Weather” is prime example. Reminiscent of Dave Loggins’ 1974 hit “Please Come To Boston,” it tells the tale of a man with wanderlust, who in the song’s first verse, is heading back out on the road, leaving behind the woman who loves him. As he bids her farewell, she says to him:

“… you’re a rambling man
And you ain’t ever gonna change,
You got a gypsy’s soul to blame
And you were born for leavin’.”

By the second verse, however, the song moves in a different direction. Unlike Loggins’ song where the main character keeps moving from place to place, “Colder Weather’s” protagonist pulls into a truck stop diner and starts having second thoughts about having left his lover behind. He returns to her but it isn’t long before the urge to roam overtakes him again. By the end of the song there isn’t any resolution; the listener is left with the impression that the character is perpetually conflicted about whether to stay or to go, and that the relationship never really moves forward.

I’ve frequently been critical of artists who stray too far from their country roots in pursuit of pop stardom, but “Colder Weather” is a good example of a well-crafted country-pop record. It opens with a gentle piano solo, with some subtle fiddle and steel entering into the mix during the second verse. The production soars just a bit before the bridge, with some percussion and electric guitars, which though prominent, are not ostentatious and overwhelming, in stark contrast to most contemporary country recordings. It’s not a traditional record, but Keith Stegall’s restrained production and the band’s harmonies help to create a fresh sound that should stand out amongst the slickness and blandness of almost everything else on the radio.

“Colder Weather” was written by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, Levi Lowrey, and Coy Bowles. It can be heard here.

Grade: B+

Occasional Hope’s Top 10 Singles of 2010

I’ve been moderately encouraged by the singles released this year compared with 2009, which seemed to offer a particularly disappointing crop. While there was plenty of dross around this year, there was some good music as well. Some of my picks of the year were even hits, with my personal #1 single hitting the top of the Billboard charts.

10. Stealing Angels – ‘He Better Be Dead’

This up-tempo rant about the guy who doesn’t call back after that promising romantic evening features the lead vocals of Loretta Lynn’s granddaughter Tayla. She’s not in the same league as the legend, but this is a fun, sassy single which introduced us to a talented trio. It didn’t make the Billboard top 40, but gained some airplay.

9. Tammy Cochran – ‘He Really Thinks He’s Got It’
This entertaining single from Tammy’s excellent independent 2009 album 30 Something And Single was released this year. Sadly (if unsurprisingly), with no label support it failed to chart, but it is a wry look at dating hell.

8. Joey + Rory – ‘That’s Important To Me’

A revival of a song from Joey Martin’s independent solo album has become the latest single for the husband and wife duo who emerged on 2008’s Can You Duet. It is being ignored by radio, but has a lovely clean production with Joey’s earnest vocals shining. She is one of my favorite female vocalists at the moment.

7. Martin Ramey – ‘Twisted’

This Curb duo’s only single to date seems to have sunk without a trace, but it made an impact on me if no one else. Brad Martin (formerly signed to Epic as a solo artist) and singer-songwriter John Ramey have pleasant but individually unremarkable voices, but their harmonies blend together very attractively, and are very reminiscent of 80s predecessors the O’Kanes. Their label affiliation means we may be waiting some time for more music, but I’ll be keen to hear more.

6. Jerrod Niemann – ‘What Do You Want’

The follow-up to Jerrod’s catchy pop cover and breakthrough hit ‘Lover, Lover’ was one of the highlights on Jerrod’s rather mixed album Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury – really good contemporary country. The plaintive lead vocal, Rachel Bradshaw’s pretty harmony, and organ melody seep into your consciousness as Jerrod tries to find out what his ex is trying to do by keeping on making contact. The single is still rising in the charts.

5. Sammy Kershaw – ‘Better than I Used To Be’

The title track of 90s hitmaker Sammy’s latest independent album (and its lead single) is a deeply honest song about a man who has let people down in the past, but is man enough to admit to his failings, and to turn his life around. Sadly his return to the recording studio was not met with commercial success, but this lovely, mature song (written by Brian Simpson and Ashley Gorley) stands up well with his past classics.

4. Jamey Johnson – ‘Playing The Part’

This downbeat look at the real cost of chasing fame in Hollywood only just squeezed into the top 40 of the Billboard country singles chart, but it is one of the most memorable singles of the year. It’s not quite as good as ‘High Cost Of Living’, which was my personal #1 single of 2009, but a very fine song nonetheless.

3. Miranda Lambert – ‘The House That Built Me’

Miranda’s star has risen steadily over the past five years, but 2009’s Revolution took her to a new level. I was less impressed than some by that album (mainly due to issues with the sound mixing), but this acoustic guitar-led smash is one of the best things on it. The sensitive ballad about returning to a childhood home to reminisce and regain the emotional wholeness of childhood was one of the biggest hits of the year, and the CMA Song (and Video) of the Year. It was written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin.

2. Dierks Bentley – ‘Draw Me A Map’

Dierks Bentley made a rare brave artistic choice for a major label artist this year when he released an album incorporating bluegrass and other roots influences and asked radio to play the singles. The singles have been only modest successes, with this second single struggling to get out of the 30s, but they have at least received some exposure – and Dierks was nominated for three CMA awards on the strength of the album. It remains one of the most beautiful singles of the year, with Alison Krauss’s heavenly harmony and the haunting fiddle adding special touches.

1. Zac Brown Band – ‘Highway 20 Ride’

The Atlanta band with one foot in the Caribbean has become one of the most interesting acts in country music over the last couple of years, and they were rewarded this year with Grammy and CMA awards for Best New Artist, and an array of other nominations. They have become a staple at country radio, and have defied the latter’s fondness for things to stay the same by having each successive single represent a different side of their music – with five of the six singles to have completed their run to date hitting #1 on Billboard, and the other only just failing to do so. This is my favorite of their singles to date, and was their third #1 hit, reaching its peak in April this year. Written by lead singer Zac Brown with his frequent songwriting partner Wyatt Durette and inspired by the latter’s regular journeys taking a son to visit his mother, the downbeat ballad is my favorite single of the year. It embodies the essential truth common to all the greatest country songs; in this case portraying family breakdown and the impact of the son’s relationship with his father.

I reviewed it just after its release at the end of last year, and said then that if it was a hit it would go some way to restoring my faith in country radio. It was indeed a success, and overall this has been a better year for singles than 2009. So perhaps the tide is turning.

Single Review: Zac Brown Band feat. Alan Jackson – ‘As She’s Walking Away’

The Zac Brown Band are one of the most interesting groups around at the moment. Certainly not traditional country, they more or less successfully incorporate various musical influences into an organic sounding whole which is not over-produced. Each of their singles to date has brought out a different side to their music while managing to please radio each time, a feat which has helped to propel their debut album, The Foundation to almost two millions sales and counting, and the band to a slate of nominations at the upcoming CMA Awards, including an unexpected nod for the biggest prize of all – Entertainer of the Year.

Their likeable guitar and fiddle led new single is the first from their second album, You Get What You Give, which has just debuted with encouraging early sales. It has an attractively lilting tune and a neatly constructed storyline, apparently based on a real life incident. Written like the majority of the band’s work by lead singer Zac Brown and Wyatt Durrette, the straightforward story has the protagonist too shy to make a move on an unknown girl he like the look of, only to feel the pangs of regret as she disappears:

Now I’m falling in love as she’s walking away

Alan Jackson (with whom the group shares producer Keith Stegall) has been recruited to play the wise older man at the bar advising the protagonist to take a chance and not risk regretting the one that got away, as he did himself. His warm sincere vocal is very effective as he proffers the words of wisdom,

Roll the dice and have some faith

The story is not actually resolved in the song. The video, which otherwise interprets the song rather literally, does end with the boy approaching the girl, but leaves the payoff hanging. But the song itself is all about the snapshot, the regret of the moment, and the old man’s advice. It is all very charming and is deservedly doing well on country radio.

Grade: B+

Single Review: Zac Brown Band – ‘Highway 20 Ride’

I confess that I hadn’t paid much attention to the Zac Brown Band all through the chart run of their three big hits to date, culminating in ‘Toes’ this past summer. I didn’t really pay them any attention at all until I saw their fiddle-heavy live cover of ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’ on the otherwise largely disastrous CMA Awards show last month. That got me interested enough to check out their platinum-selling album The Foundation, and I enjoyed it much more then I was expecting. Although they’re not traditional country by any means, this is a band which realizes (rare for a major label act with chart action) that less is sometimes more and doesn’t feel the need to ramp everything up to 11. My favorite track from the album, the slightly atypical ‘Highway 20 Ride’, has now been announced as the fourth single.

It is very different in tone from their previous laid-back and light-hearted hits, and it remains to be seen how country radio will respond to a serious, mature song from the band. Written by the band’s lead singer Zac Brown with his usual songwriting partner Wyatt Durrette, and sensitively produced by Keith Stegall, the subdued lyric consists of a divorced father’s pondering on his situation on his long fortnightly drive to see his young son. The playing is low-key but nicely supports Zac’s sincere vocals as he explains in his mind to the child how:

“There’s things I haven’t told you,
Your mom and me couldn’t get along…
There was no other way to work it out”.

Refreshingly no blame is cast in the direction of his ex-wife, with the focus firmly on the protagonist’s wistful longing to spend time with the boy. Poignantly, he seems to have little faith in the future of their relationship, gloomily anticipating,

A part of you might hate me
But son please don’t mistake me
For a man that didn’t care at all

No one listening to this song could make such a mistake.

It would be fair to say that Zac is not one of the great male vocalists, as his pleasant voice is really what I would call more of a songwriter’s voice, but that works perfectly on subtly understated material like this, because it feels emotionally real, whereas a “bigger” singer might over-emote. In the last few lines, the vocals do start to sound a little overwrought as Zac repeats the title, and this works less well for me than the introspective mood of the greater part of the song. This is a minor criticism, however, of a single which, if it is a hit, will go some way to partially restoring my faith in radio.

Grade: A

Hear the song on the band’s myspace.