It is easy to acknowledge the aphorism that “you can’t please everybody” as true intellectually, but coming to accept that truth from firsthand experience can be quite discomforting. The Zac Brown Band appear to have faced this harsh reality in 2015 with the release of Jekyll + Hyde, an album that sought to push the boundaries of the group’s country-rock stylings. While the band’s sonic eclecticism was looked upon favourably by critics, fans were alienated by the new direction the group seemed to take. And so, in word and deed, the Zac Brown Band have returned to their home territory with Welcome Home.
From the outset with the aptly titled Roots, Welcome Home seeks to appease the conservative – as in traditional and resistant to change – American country music audience, offering up a bland slice of Americana. There are no faults with the musicianship or production on display, quite the opposite in fact, but the opening track would be utterly forgettable if not for the fact it is the listener’s first taste of the album. Real Thing doubles down on this tendency with a heavy dollop of tried and true references to the “good ol’ boys” and real things being “all American” and/or “made in the USA”.
It is not until halfway through Welcome Home that the Zac Brown Band start to inject some colour and character back into their music with the upbeat Family Table. While the lyrical content is still firmly set to appeal to the classic values of middle America, the music offers a glimpse of the band’s adventurous and energetic live presence. Mournful and evocative, the stripped back My Old Man is an excellent choice for lead single, exploring intergenerational relationships in a manner reminiscent of – if more positively framed than – Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle.
Atlanta-based singer/songwriter Aslyn joins in on Trying to Drive, although her soul inspired vocals sit at odds with the rest of the track’s – and album’s – musicality, leading the listener to conclude that had the Zac Brown Band have forcibly restricted their sonic palette. While the desire to provide the fans with exactly what they want is understandable, the Zac Brown Band have done no one any service with Welcome Home, which is as well executed as it is bland.