Zac Brown Band, ‘Uncaged’ – Album Review
On paper, ‘Uncaged’ should not work as an album, let alone a country music album. The new release from Zac Brown Band redefines “something for everybody.” Country, reggae, bedroom R&B… Brown and his ever-growing motley crew stretch the Nashville sound further than any other artist. If they weren’t so talented, this project would fall apart long before the title-track.
Yet somehow, it doesn’t. In fact after a few listens, songs like ‘Overnight’ begin to not only work, but work convincingly. “First I’m gonna search your body over / I gotta make sure you ain’t hidin’ nothin’ nowhere,” Brown sings on a song that makes no effort to pretend it’s a country song.
“Ain’t no time for talking / Show me what you got / We gonna get this bed a rockin’ / It ain’t gonna stop,” he adds. Yeah… this probably won’t be a single, but it’s a nice little secret to keep when slipping in the innocent new ZBB album after a nice night out with someone special.
Brown isn’t quite as convincing as a reggae artist as he is as a late-night Romeo. ‘Island Song’ is uncomfortable, but it provides some context for the songs around it. The group continues to challenge themselves and their fans with new styles and sounds. Nothing on ‘Uncaged’ sounds mainstream. Each song leaves you wondering how to feel after one listen before convincing you to like it after the second, and maybe love it after the third.
Instrumental breaks on nearly every track give the album the live feel fans appreciate, yet at a tidy 43 minutes in length, the project never gets repetitive. There’s always a signature riff, memorable story or standout lyric. On the title-track, it’s the opening guitars and Hammond organ. On ‘Natural Disaster,’ it’s the Gospel intro and stormy bluegrass stylings. There’s almost always a reason to return.
The best lyrics come on ‘Goodbye in Her Eyes’ (“Sometimes I feel like a clown that can’t wash off his makeup“) and the tribute to Atlanta drummer Lance Tilton, called ‘Lance’s Song.’ This song has provided a poignant moment during live shows, and here it delivers the best message on the album.
The last three songs on ‘Uncaged’ are surprisingly soft in comparison to those early on. The tempo dips after ‘The Wind’ (track No. 4), but the energy stays level, allowing sweet love songs like ‘Last But Not Least’ to captivate.