Review Summary: Uncaged expands the band's musical horizons, becoming their best effort yet.
Zac Brown Band are one of the biggest act to emerge in the past decade, with two strong albums, 2008's Foundation
and 2010's You Get What You Give
, that prove they can work really well on both country and pop grounds, always adding something new to their sound. Their latest effort, Uncaged
, reaches for new peaks and even ventures in the rock realm.
Brown has a soft spot for beautiful harmonies, turning them into one of the band's trademarks. As a result, no matter which way Uncaged
leans, they manage to merge all the different styles approached into a cohesive unit. Every band member is essential for this record to work musically and Zac's warm voice and great lyrics, mainly about freedom, love, loss and death make Uncaged
a diverse highlight of its genre. Besides the country pop the band became famous for, there are a few surprises, such as the really solid, straightforward rock title track, with a powerful riff over which the band claim their freedom, "Chase that sunset highway down/You got to get uncaged". Moreover, they delve into reggae territory with the smartly crafted, heart-lifting opener, "Jump Right In", co-penned by Jason Mraz and the less rewarding summer-ish "Island Song". The band manage to expand their limits with a lot of credibility, easily capturing the listener in their world.
Overall, the record has a more serious nature than its predecessors, with many tunes here capturing Brown's introspective lyrics complete with matching melodies. Out of these, "Lance's Song" and "Day That I Die" provide some of the most beautiful moments on Uncaged
. The former is a nostalgic tune with a gorgeous chorus and strong lyrics that mourn the loss of a great friend, ("They don't know/What they got/Until it's gone/Like it or not/You live on love/You try to do what's right/We're all here waiting for our silver invitation/To our big band in the sky"), while the latter takes pride in finding beauty in small things and peace in chosen paths throughout life (On the day that I die/I wanna to say that I/Was a man who really lived and never compromised./I want to live out my days/Until the very end/I hope they find me in my home with my guitar in my hands.). Another highlight is the classic country ballad, "Sweet Annie", an introspective tune on which Brown asks his beloved one to bear with him as his hectic lifestyle of touring and drinking will not last forever and he still loves her ("Sweet Annie/Can I stay with you a while"/Cause this roads been putting miles on my heart/Sweetheart I’ve been livin' in a fantasy/[..]Don’t’ give up on me/Sweet Annie."). It's a heartbreaking song and again the harmonies just take it to another level.
On a more positive note, the frantic first single, "The Wind", the closest one to bluegrass here, packs a love story hidden in a skill parade. It really shows how experienced both musically and lyrically these guys are. Also, "Overnight", featuring Trombone Shorty, shows a more passionate side of these guys, describing a long, hot night of sweet luvin', fusing a typical country ballad with a bit of soul and a light jazzy atmosphere. The trombone is a great addition to the track and everything has a vintage feel, leaning in another direction the band could take on in the future.
There are no major flaws on Uncaged
, aside from "Island Song" which is the weakest track here simply because it comes across as a light, summer hit in between the rest of the more meaningful tracks. However, the song stands as a statement to the freedom theme the album bears. Also, "Goodbye In Her Eyes" could have been trimmed a bit to become more effective, as it becomes a bit repetitive crossing the 5 minute mark. Make no mistake though, the song is still very enjoyable the way it is and the soulful chorus along with the scattered harmonies are wonderful and really catchy.
In the end, it's clearly seen that Zac Brown Band evolves with each record. The rich vocal harmonies stand out on Uncaged
as they truly make each song better, best heard on "Lance's Song", "Day That I Die" or "Sweet Annie", but the basic foundation to this lovely band is the strong songwriting and the highly skilled musicians behind the music. Rooted in country and enriched with a lot of different styles, Uncaged
should easily attract listeners of all types of music. All of the eleven tracks here showcase the band's abilities, making it one of the most solid records of the year and of its genre.