Zac Brown has described his new album, Uncaged, as a "country-Southern rock-bluegrass-reggae-jam" record. Quite a mouthful, but that's actually an accurate tag for the band's multi-faceted sound. Over the years, he's crafted a sound that successfully melds country pop, Southern rock, 70's yacht rock and a bit of jam-band noodling into a sound that broadly appeals to soccer moms, baby boomers, young weird-beard types and, oh yeah, country lovers. The amazing thing is, the band has stitched it together so well that the seams hardly show -- even when the inspirational nod is an obvious one.
Uncaged is the band's third studio album, and like previous releases, it's a patchwork of styles that come together to create a colorful sound. The title track is a sprawling, Hammond-heavy slice of Southern rock that recalls one of the band's biggest Georgian influences, The Allman Brothers. " Uncaged" reflects the upside of touring: souls set free to wander the road, chasing dreams in total bliss. The other side of the coin is " Sweet Annie," which deals with the inevitable fall from grace - or the charts, as the case may be. When Zac sings, "This road's been putting miles on my heart," you wonder if he's reached the point where the road-warrior lifestyle just isn't worth the reward anymore.
Another highlight is the opener, " Jump Right In." A sunny, reggae-fied jam, it projects the same island-in-the-sun vibe that Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney have mined so successfully; its jaunty acoustic guitar and festive whistles instantly conjure up a Frankie and Annette-worthy beach party vibe, a "hang loose" country jam that radiates summer.
This time out, Brown has diversified the band's sound by working with other songwriters. Jason Mraz contributed to the sunny "Jump Right In." New Orleans R&B/jazzbo Trombone Shorty had a hand in the steamy, neo-soul offering " Overnight." And Brown and singer-songwriter Amos Lee trade verses on the introspective " Day That I Die."
Although they incorporate various influences into their sound, the Zac Brown Band are, at heart, a country band, and " The Wind" brings this point home in spades. As well as being an awesome foot-stomper of a song, it also serves as a showcase for the tight musicianship within the band, often overlooked on their more pop-oriented offerings. Here, fiddles expertly intersect with mandolins and guitars for a fiery good time - it's a barnburner in every sense of the word.