Since 2008, the Zac Brown Band has dominated country music with its Southern style and powerful songs. Its music is some of the best in the genre, capturing even the attention of non-country fans. The band’s fourth studio album, Jekyll + Hyde, which it released Tuesday, combines its signature country sound with influences from rock, pop and soul music to provide a new twist to distinguish it from the band’s previous records.
The first track “Beautiful Drug,” is scarier than it is impressive on first listen. The song isn’t just a nod to pop music, it’s an attempt at a top-40 hit. “Beautiful Drug” evokes memories of Taylor Swift’s country-to-pop transformation, when she transitioned to pop for larger audiences and revenue, abandoning country music and her roots.
Although “Beautiful Drug” might suggest the Zac Brown Band is about to head down the same path as Swift, the rest of the songs on Jekyll + Hyde prove that the Zac Brown Band is not abandoning country music, but rather diversifying its sound.
The diverse nature of this record comes with ease for Brown and his cohorts. From the rock creed “Heavy Is the Head,” which features Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, to the jazzy “Mange Tree,” featuring singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, each song on the record has its own identity.
Other big names appear in the credits. Grammy-winning blues musician Keb’ Mo’ and former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters helped write “Remedy” and “Junkyard,” respectively. All of these influences contribute to the varied style of the entire album.
This variety never translated onto the recordings of its first three albums. Jekyll + Hyde merges the straightforward-country band from its past albums with the flexible-and-creative band from tours.
Although its sound is more diverse than ever, the Zac Brown Band hasn’t abandoned the country sound that made them famous. Its Southern style is still prominent on Jekyll + Hyde in songs such as the album’s lead single, “Homegrown,” and “I’ll Be Your Man (Song for a Daughter).”
A few songs suffer from the new directions the band explored on the album. “Loving You Easy” sounds like Bruno Mars went country. “Tomorrow Never Comes” is awkward, but the album includes a better acoustic version of the song.
As songs, almost every individual track can stand on its own. When put together as an album, however, they don’t make much sense. Nothing ties each track to the next; the album is more of a collage of interesting songs than one joint work of art.
Jekyll + Hyde earns its name by displaying the Zac Brown Band’s varied style — one most people haven’t heard before. This album might not live up to the magnitude of the band’s previous pure-country releases; its first album, The Foundation, and 2013’s country record of the year Uncaged, are rooted firmly in Southern country music. Yet, hearing the band’s evolution on Jekyll + Hyde is an overall enjoyable listen.
Album: Jekyll + Hyde
Artist: Zac Brown Band