For my 760th review ever, the Zac Brown Band recruit Dave Cobb for a solid right turn back to country.
To explain why this album exists, we need to go back a few years. It’s 2015, and anticipation was high for the newest album from the Zac Brown Band – but of course there were concerns. Everyone knew the band was capable of delivering quality – even if they had a penchant for laid-back beach fare they had still put out three remarkably solid records with great melodies and harmonies and lyrics that, while not exactly great, could hit some real potent emotions. And for me, they had been responsible for some of the best mainstream country songs in recent years, a beacon of real talent in an increasingly oversaturated bro-country scene. But the lead-off singles here seemed different, increasingly stepping outside of country in favor of rock…
And yet little did we expect what Jekyll + Hyde turned out to be. Putting it simply, despite how much I liked the record it was a mess, full of stylistic pivots into rock, metal, reggae, EDM, and even occasionally country music! And again, there were great moments – Zac Brown has a knack for hooks like few in mainstream country – but the pileup of genres alienated a lot of the group’s fans, especially those who had followed from their loose, jam-band roots. And again, even though I did like that project and think their experimentation did occasionally stick the landing – I hold ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ is as close to a country/EDM mix that actually works that has ever been made, and the rock-leaning tracks definitely have their fans – for a lot of country fans it was a step too far.
And so in the lead-up to Welcome Home, you can tell they were doing everything they could to re-establish their country credentials. Zac Brown himself contributed to a song on Dave Cobb’s Southern Family compilation – which I still hold is the best album of 2016 – and apparently they connected so well Dave Cobb was pulled on to produce the entire new record. And despite this reassuring step, I was still a little concerned – I wasn’t against Zac Brown experimenting, he had stuck the landing a fair few times, I just wanted the cohesion to be there and the songwriting to connect. But hey, if we’re going to get a solid, grounded country record, this is something the Zac Brown Band can do well, so what did we get?