2015 CD REVIEW
ZAC BROWN BAND
JEKYLL & HYDE (REPUBLIC-UNIVERSAL).
HOMEGROWN HEROES CONQUER ALL CHARTS
“I got a piece of land out in the country side/ layback and smell the sun, warm up the Georgia pine/ feels so good to be taking it easy/ why would I ever leave.” - Homegrown - Zac Brown-Wyatt Durrette.
Eclectic Georgian octet Zac Brown Band broke diverse Billboard records with its seventh album topping rock and country charts on debut.
But, like the album title Jekyll & Hyde , the contrasting content polarised some critics.
The sold-out crowd at St Kilda Palais in March may have suffered aural shock from the delivery of Heavy Is The Head, Pink Floyd tune Comfortably Numb and Led Zeppelin cover Kashmir .
But the band maximised marketing when Heavy Is The Head - featuring Soundgarden and Audioslave singer-songwriter Chris Cornell - crashed Top 5 on rock charts.
The good tidings for long time Brown fans is that apart from Heavy Is The Head and Junkyard the rest of this 16 track disc is a riveting return to their beachside bliss.
Those distortion and tempo tempests in Junkyard may be necessary to drive home dangers faced by the damsel driving a rusty Buick and wielding a knife to protect her mother from a demented junkyard predator.
Danger is a relative fear for the Buick driver - there's quite a few Jeep celebrity recipients here in the unlucky radio living under storm clouds after their Brighton benefactor faces an ill-fitting $30 million law suit from his former employers.
Zac's hombres kick off the disc with the rollicking Beautiful Drug where the femme fatale, clad in matching red dress, heels and lipstick, casts her narcotic spell on the male narrator with her opaque charms.
It segues into idyllic Loving You Easy - third single off this album - and Biblical bagpipe powered paean Remedy - where love, of course, is the bucolic balm.
“Jesus preached the golden rule / Buddha taught it too / Gandhi said eye for an eye / makes the whole world go blind”
The ecumenical eulogy to universal love opens the door to huge hit Homegrown that extols happiness in the rural slow lane where bliss is just a kiss away with the one you love.
That may sound simplistic in contrast to cities where love is sold by the bucket on reality TV and restrained by politically correct parameters in the inner urban jungles.
Zac then heads south to the islands with a Sinatra big band flourish, replete with horns, as he shares vocals with pop singer Sara Bareilles on the topical, tropical treat Mango Tree .
But the listeners are lulled into a false sense of security before Cornell is enlisted for the cranium kicking clout of Heavy Is The Head .
Not to worry, like the dentist's chair, there's relief on the horizon when the anesthesia kicks in on the country folk hybrid Bittersweet where regret is tempered with memories of better times as the character survives after learning a lover is on the verge of death.
COASTAL CASTAWAY POURING RUM WITH A HUM
“I'm in an island state of mind/ don't think I'm ever gonna leave/ rather stay and watch the waves/ move the sand beneath my feet/ reggae on the radio/ laying low and feeling high/ easy living down in paradise.” - Castaway - Zac Brown-Wyatt Durrette-Coy Bowles-John Driskill Hopkins.
Occasional Australian tourist and former Drive By Truckers troubadour Jason Isbell scored critical exposure when he first released his song that personalised the pain of a widow and townsfolk vainly praying for the safe return of a Marine who never makes it to his 22nd birthday.
The soldier and father of a baby he never has a chance to meet returns to his hometown - in a coffin in dress blues.
Although Brown may have muffled the message with radio friendly lyric changes he still retains a salient sting in the tail of this traumatic tale.
Dress Blues segues fittingly into the rampant nostalgia of reflections of a romantic and energised love in the enduring optimism of Young And Wild before the peace is shattered again by Junkyard.
But there's light at the end this tunnel with the pride primed paternal paean I'll Be Your Man (Song for A Daughter ) where the male lead urges his progeny to enjoy childhood and adolescence and follow her dreams through the passage of time to motherhood.
Brown borrows from the historic imagery of septuagenarian Merle Haggard in “the amber waves of grain” in Wildfire to illustrate his character's warning to his quarry that his unbridled pursuit of love may tear pages from a romance novel but will also be a high flying trip with inherent dangers like the metaphoric tight rope walker.
The band finish their latest epic with an acoustic version of Tomorrow Never Comes - definitely not a sibling of the Kent Blazy and Garth Brooks penned hit If Tomorrow Never Comes where the character ponders the fate of his sleeping lover if he dies without revealing his love for her.
Brooks' character avoids pitfalls of premature death by declaring his undying love daily while Brown's hero casts caution and coition to the wind at his back as he sails back into the sales charts.