Zac Brown Band

By Gareth Hipwell

This is the most personal album we’ve ever done and we’re very proud of it. Welcome home,” says Zac Brown of Welcome Home, the fifth major label outing for the tireless juggernaut that is the 8-piece Zac Brown Band. Representing a marked softening in both sound and thematic thrust after the kaleidoscopic sonic adventure that was 2015’s Jekyll + Hyde, Welcome Home finds ZBB returning to some more familiarly earthy country territory. As Brown himself told Rolling Stone Country earlier in 2017:

“I’m stripped down and naked on a fence for this album. It’s as honest and personal as it can be. It’s about my life, the people in my life, my history and where I’m going.”

Produced by tunesmith-of-the-moment Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell) and recorded at RCA’s immortal Studio A – onetime stomping ground of the likes of Dolly Parton and Waylon Jennings – Welcome Home tails a whirlwind year for the unstoppable Zac Brown Band.

The triple Grammy-winning outfit’s colossal Black Out the Sun tour 2016 was, by all reports, a truly epic affair, breaking attendance records and rallying the hirsute country-rockers’ legion fans across the USA. They were also honoured with a career-retrospective exhibition at Nashville’s hallowed Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – a rare feat for a band that burst onto the scene less than a decade ago with tearaway debut single and now signature tune ‘Chicken Fried’, which featured on multi-platinum-certified major label debut album The Foundation. That single paved the way for ZBB to go on to net a staggering total of 15 No. 1 hit singles. The rest is history.

Brown himself was honoured with the CRS 2017 Artist Humanitarian Award, an honour reserved for “country music artists who have exhibited exceptional humanitarian efforts during their career” and that has previously been taken home by the likes of Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Brad Paisley, Reba McEntire, and Garth Brooks. Among other philanthropic endeavours, Brown’s own top-flite youth recreation facility in Georgia, Camp Southern Ground, has long been celebrated for its inclusivity, catering for all comers, including children with neuro-developmental disorders.

Just announced, ZBB’s mammoth Welcome Home tour 2017 will see the band take in more than 40 US dates.

Zac Brown Band’s dedication to their live show is well established. But the scale of the group’s touring operation is all the more impressive for its several members’ non-musical commitments. Brown is himself a father of five, while fiddle player Jimmy De Martini and wife Stacey recently celebrated the birth of their fourth child, multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook became a father for the first time in November 2016, and guitarist-keyboardist Coy Bowles welcomed a daughter in October (Bowles himself recently authored a children’s book entitled When You’re Feeling Sick).

So it comes as no surprise that Welcome Home should be an album dedicated to home and hearth – to family, and to the gentle rhythms of domestic life.

Where Jekyll + Hyde saw Brown and co. tackle everything from electronic dance music (‘Beautiful Drug’, ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’) to big band swing (‘Mango Tree’ with Sara Bareilles) to hard rock (‘Junkyard’, ‘Heavy is the Head’ with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell), Welcome Home looks to earlier outings The Foundation (2008) and You Get What You Give (2010) for its musical grounding. For the time being, at least, it seems that Brown’s penchant for experimentation with sounds outside the country sphere will be confined to his own Sir Rosevelt dance music side-project, formed with established collaborators Niko Moon and Ben Simonetti in 2016. True to that, Brown has cited the time-honoured likes of the Allman Brothers Band and James Taylor as key influences on the making of Welcome Home.

Album opener ‘Roots’, with its dusky, expressive fiddle, banjo, and percussive acoustic guitar, is Zac Brown Band at their classic, laidback best.

My first best friend was a 6-string…When I was 18, bought a Dodge van, found a drummer and made the road my home. I wouldn’t change a thing, it made the man I am today – my roots.’

… read the rest of the story in Issue 85