Georgia country stars Zac Brown Band are one of those occasional bands that benefit from a consistent sound: We know what to expect from every release, and, in such, they seldom disappoint. The band continues to support this notion with the release of their third major label studio album, “Uncaged.”
Released July 10, “Uncaged” has been the #1 album on Billboard’s Country Album chart since July 21, and held the top position on the Billboard 200 chart from July 21 to July 28, which is ranked by sales.
Admittedly, during a first listen of the album, “Uncaged” plays like standard, radio-friendly country fare, with the occasionally exceptional standout track (Such as the album’s exciting first single, “The Wind,” and the catchy build-up of “Natural Disaster”). It’s only upon further, more in-depth play-throughs that “Uncaged” becomes less of an album to be milked by producers for maximum radio-airplay, and more of a satisfying country experience.
“Uncaged” more resembles 2010’s “You Get What You Give” than their fast-paced major label debut, 2008’s “The Foundation,” in terms of instrumentals and songwriting. As the album plays, it becomes apparent the band is still discovering their place in the country music world, complemented by the artistic directions taken in “Uncaged.”
One welcome highlight of the album is the continuance of what can be considered a Zac Brown Band tradition: The inclusion of an overtly Buffett-esque “beach country” track, this time in the appropriately titled “Island Song.” The song, in much of the same vein as 2008’s “Toes” and 2010’s “Knee Deep” (featuring Jimmy Buffett on guest vocal duties), has less of a place in a honky-tonk bar, and more of an identity as a “beach-front, boat-drinks” single.
While “Uncaged” continues the general “slowing down” of the band’s musical style since their major label debut, that does not mean there isn’t a viable market for such songs within the country market; The band obviously knows the direction they’ve chosen with “Uncaged,” and they successfully reflect those decisions in their performances in the recording studio.
The only repercussion of those decisions is that they might alienate long-time fans, who can recall the fast-picking, hoe-down energy of earlier Zac Brown Band. It’s not that the band’s energy is abandoned in “Uncaged” (as seen in tracks “Jump Right In,” “The Wind” and title track “Uncaged”), but rather shows its rowdy face less often than fans might appreciate.
All in all, “Uncaged” is a solid, satisfying release from one of country music’s most notable rising stars. What sacrifices are made in the regards to the band’s true potential are done so to benefit stylistic continuity across the album as a whole. “Uncaged” is best served in the context of a full-package album, not a collection of singles.
Zac Brown Band will be co-headlining Pensacola’s DeLuna Fest September 21 through 23, along with Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters.
“Jump Right In”