Zac Brown Band - Jekyll + Hyde 2LP
Nearly three years after Uncaged, which won the Grammy for Best Country Album, the Zac Brown Band unveiled the next chapter in their crossover country revolution. Uncaged was distinguished at least in part by the participation of a variety of guests including Jimmy Buffett, Alan Jackson, Trombone Shorty, Jason Mraz, and Amos Lee. Jekyll + Hyde doesn't forgo them altogether, but it does have fewer of them. Instead, ZBB double down on their commitment to deliver as many different kinds of songs as they possibly can. Whereas the Jay Joyce-produced first single, "Homegrown," is characteristic of the band's feel-good, home-and-heart, back-country groove, it's not nearly representative of everything that's here. Opener "Beautiful Drug" may feature a meld of acoustic guitars, banjos, and snare drums, but loops, synths, and a hook straight out of a Katy Perry single govern its flow. "Mango Tree" features Sara Bareilles in a guest performance as it attempts to re-create Nelson Riddle-esque big-band pop swing. It's followed by the rocker "Heavy Is the Head," with Soundgarden/Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell in duet with Brown. The metallic guitar is appended by a distorted bassline that comes right from the Geezer Butler playbook. The guest tunes are solid additions, but they're not the best things here. Those honors are reserved for the band's self-written tunes: "Remedy" weds country-gospel to a Celtic reel with multi-part vocal harmonies and finally to modern praise & worship; it's a clear standout. The Caribbean-tinged tunes such as "Loving You Easy," with its Buffett-esque groove wed to retro pop/soul and "One Day," with its sweeping yet earthy fiddle, horns, and stirring backing choruses, are both winners, too. "Tomorrow Never Comes" is almost a big-beat dance number with its ticking loops and electronic blips cutting through a bluegrass stomp. It's bracing in its audacity. Jason Isbell's poignant "Dress Blues" is more straightforward, wedding folk and pop-country in a poignant lyric about a fallen marine; the arrangement juxtaposes a gently whining pedal steel with an elegiac, languid fiddle. "Junkyard," a song about child abuse, is a slow, angry country-rocker with fat, muddy basses and guitars, and a Celtic interlude with drum loops that adds drama and tension before the tempo explodes. "I'll Be Your Man (Song for a Daughter)" is heartfelt, island-tinged folk-country. Its closing chorale is straight out of the Southern church. It should have closed the album, because "Widlfire" feels like filler and an acoustic version of "Tomorrow Never Comes" was unnecessary because it adds to the set's already unwieldy, hour-plus length. The only other nick is that the set's production is overly bright. These are niggling complaints, however. The stylistic range of Jekyll + Hyde proves that ZBB's reach is almost limitless, and this set will more than likely delight the group's legions of fans.