by Derek Payseur
The Zac Brown Band’s third album, The Foundation, is an eclectic mix of songs that range from island-style country and slow-paced ballads to feel-good radio-friendly hits and finger picking southern-fried bluegrass. When listening to the album, it is obvious that Zac Brown and his band (Coy Bowles, Jimmy DeMartini, John Hopkins, and Chris Fryar) are a talented group of musicians that can play a wide variety of songs with a catchy twist of southern sensibility. And in addition to their aptly-tuned musical talents, Brown’s voice is great, and he’s not afraid of belting out a range of chords for an extending period of time, such as he does in “Highway 20 Ride.” Furthermore, it seems that their talents are highlighted the most on the bluegrass-influenced songs, “Mary,” “It’s Not Ok,” and “Sic ‘Em on a Chicken.” The picking is fast on all three, and the latter two songs are fun and sound as if the band is having a good time with the material. The closing track, “Sic ‘Em on a Chicken,” is the best thing on the album. It’s silly, fun, and the band is not afraid of showing off their skillful instrumental precision for nearly four minutes. Other highlights include the radio-friendly ballads “Free,” and the previously mentioned, “Highway 20 Ride,” which offer serious alternatives to the lighter songs; thus providing the album with the overall stylistic-variations it attempts to achieve. Their first single, “Chicken Fried” (a celebratory reminiscence of Brown’s southern upbringing), has all of the catchiness of a pop-country song without the corny and cliché mass-produced shtick of the TRL-meets-CMT hits: “Well I was raised underneath / The shade of a Georgia pine / And that’s home, you know / Sweet tea, pecan pie, and homemade wine / Where the peaches grow.”
And while there are those aforementioned gems on this album that were just mentioned, there are also the southern influenced island songs that feel tiresome and hokey. It’s almost as if Brown and the band took the cheesiness of Jimmy Buffet and Kenny Chesney and spliced it together with the frat-boy favorites of Bob Marley and Jack Johnson. For example, “Toes” is the opening track for the album, and it’s about the southern boy who meets the idyllic Hawaiian lifestyle: “I got my toes in the water / Ass in the sand / Not a worry in the world / A cold beer in my hand / Life is good today (repeat twice).” Then, there are the Jack Johnson sounding songs, “Where the Boat Leaves From” and “The Different Kind of Fine.” The former of the two even has a hint of that signature Jack Johnson skew-be-de-boo white-boy rap delivery, which will leave the listener wondering if this is even the same band as praised in the previous paragraph.
Overall, The Foundation is a good album with the exception of the Chesnian-Johnson infusions. If there’s anything that these songs do, then it’s to display the musical range that the Zac Brown Band offers. While that may open them up to a wider audience, it’s the other songs when the band seems to be having the most fun showing off their musical talents. And, it’s these particular songs that feel genuine and ultimately make the album worth the attention it deserves.