Zac Brown is indisputably one of the most sonically adventurous artists working in country music today. Whether he’s trading verses with Kid Rock, chart-topping with Jimmy Buffett, or handing production duties over to Dave Grohl, Brown rarely fails to push the boundaries of the genre. It’s an admirable outlook to have in the oft-stuffy world of Nashville formalism, and it has led his band to multiplatinum success. But the group’s fourth studio full-length goes miles beyond even their most off-the-beaten-path excursions, and not always for the better.
There is some comfort food here: “Homegrown” is a good old-fashioned banjo-plucking porch-rocker, and the Chris Cornell-assisted bulldozer “Heavy Is the Head” doesn’t stray too far from Brown’s previous grunge-smacked collaborations with Grohl. But it’s a pretty long walk from opener “Beautiful Drug,” a sort of Calvin Harris-lite club bubbler, to a Margaritaville jam (“Castaway”) and a gospel tune (“Remedy”). Sara Bareilles drops in on “Mango Tree,” a brassy Vegas lounge act, and multiple hip-hop-biting beats are sprinkled throughout. Though Brown’s vocals adjust to Jekyll + Hyde’s multiple personalities, he can’t provide enough continuity to keep the album cohesive, and the borderline-goofy gambits are more distracting than interesting. The album certainly proves that ZBB have range. But at some point, experimentation swerves into self-indulgence, and Brown never gets around to solving Jekyll’s identity crisis. C+
Heavy Is the Head
Young and Wild