I hate country music. That’s what I’ve been saying for years when getting into friend’s cars and hearing the likes of Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley (who names their kid “Dierks”…), and others. And if you had asked me four days ago how I felt about country, I’d say the same thing. I hate it. But after being turned on to ZBB’s Jekyll + Hyde by my best friend this past Fourth weekend, I must say that I now can tolerate country music… and perhaps I even like some of it. Granted, I am fully aware (thanks to friends who are Zac Brown Band crazies) that the group’s newest album is a departure from strict country and more of a venture into the pop realm. Regardless, Jekyll + Hyde isn’t just fantastic country music, is fantastic music. Period.
The way I’d describe the album, in one phrase, is “an intro to modern country music.” Across the entire record, we hear those bone-chilling signature harmonies (both a cappella and backed by the band’s vast instrumental array), prominent percussion, and strong power chords throughout that drive the songs all the way until the end. What I found when listening to most of the songs was that I wanted more at the end of each. Homegrown, for instance, perhaps the most well-known track off the album so far, has already become a radio sensation in both pop and country. It’s a powerful, lyrical, and beat-heavy anthem that has one of the catchiest choruses I’ve ever heard (like, ever) and a completely unexpected and refreshing final chorus outtro. All that in just over three minutes… definitely a song that I want to hear more of (but can’t… so I loop the crap out of it).
Then we have Mango Tree with Sara Bareilles––a big-band jazzy cannon that really closely resembles the classic Fly Me To The Moon but with a bit more of a country swing (and, of course, the modern and skilled voices of Brown & Bareilles). Another favorite is Bittersweet, a cute love-lost type of grieving song which is turned grungy (and perhaps made more passionate) with its percussion and electric bass drop for the final chorus (one of my favorite things… see Only Love by my beloved Mumford & Sons).
Loving You Easy is, well, an easy-listening song. Easy drum parts, easy vocals, easy strings, easy bass, and easy harmonies (well… I can confirm that they SOUND easy, but they’re not easy to play. These guys are good). Combine that with stunning lead vocals from Zac and some sweet major/minor changes (the funky chords towards the end of the chorus), and you’ve got a great summer sunset anthem that is reminiscent of a Temptations track.
Out of all of the songs, however, my absolute favorite is hands-down Tomorrow Never Comes. It begins with a mellow combination of acoustic guitars and Zac’s chilling voice on a sweet melody, then adds in the classic ZBB finely-tuned melodies and some percussion. Then, out of almost nowhere, in the first chorus we hear the vocals have two odd cutoffs…only to be brought back in again by a symphony of banjos, strings, guitars, electric and acoustic percussion & bass, and a drop worthy of an Avicii mix. And if the EDM/pop/country mix isn’t your thing, there’s an acoustic version of the track at the end of the album, equally as powerful.
Sorry to be cliché, but Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde has everything I (you) need and nothing that I (you) don’t. Listen to it if you’re in to country or not. It’s not to be missed.