Zac Brown Band is a country group from Atlanta, Georgia. They debuted in 2005 with a self released LP entitled Home Grown before signing to Atlantic and dropping their breakthrough album The Foundation in 2008. They went on to release three number one albums in 2015 with Uncaged being the strongest while tracks like “Colder Weather,” and “Goodbye In Her Eyes,” carrying them to country stardom thanks to a maximalist approach to instrumentation, strong harmonies, and a carefree style which endeared them to fans. Recently, they seem to have dipped their toes in the rabbit hole pop-country, but they’ve largely found their own path and avoided the very shallow sounds of current radio country. The Owl is the band’s seventh LP, and it sees them tackling the unique challenge of building a large discography in such a rapidly changing genre.
Certainly the album’s strongest point comes in it’s instrumentation. The band currently sports eight members and every last one of them turns in some strong moments across the LP. From the subtle violins and bass on the opener, “The Woods,” or the vintage clav and grooving acoustic guitar on “Need This,” to the soft piano on the closer, “Leaving Love Behind.” Even on weak points of the album, the tight, exciting performances from the band really elevate every track.
In addition to the tightness of the band, Zac himself brings several impressive vocal moments. His harmonies and chemistry on Brandi Carlile on “Finish What We Started,” are extremely impressive, and they elevate the cut far above the rather simple writing. Later tracks like “Already On Fire,” on the other hand, see Brown using his powerful voice to guide a listener through the more challenging, experimental instrumental.
The band as a whole is at their best on the handful of tracks which pull in strong blues influences. Cuts like “Me and the Boys in the Band,” and “Shoofly Pie,” feature roaring electric guitars, raucous drums, and surprisingly powerful vocal from Zac. The album sees the band dipping into several new styles and genres, many of which simply don’t work, but the blues influences are very well performed and need to be better fleshed out on later records.
Unfortunately, this LP falls very short on several elements. One of the most frustrating issues comes in the serious dearth of impressive lyrics across the entire album. Cuts like “God Given,” and the record’s worst track “OMW,” feature a mix of lazy and genuinely terrible lyrics with several flat out cringe-worthy moments.
Worse than this, however, is the very weak production which negatively impacts nearly every track. There are perfectly respectable tracks like “Someone I Used to Know,” which are butchered by muddy instrumentation, strange percussion, and over-production. Even a song like “The Warrior,” which is genuinely well written and features some of the strongest lyrics on the album, is totally ruined by the rampant overproduction which covers the entire record.
Overall, The Owl feels like a bit of a misstep. There are certainly moments which show new signs of life for the band and tying in further blues influences is an excellent choice, but the entirety of the project remains mired in poor production, uninspired lyricism, and strange instrumental choices.
The Owl features a few bright spots amid a wave a bad decisions.