Album Review: Zac Brown Band – Jekyll + Hyde (2015 LP)

Before I get to my thoughts on the album I firstly want to say that even though I’ve never found lead singer/guitarist Zac Brown to be a handsome man and I often don’t say this, but I love the cover art and dare I say, he even looks a bit powerful and attractive on the cover. The one brown and one blue eye with the switched writing plus the black and white definitely stands out in the sea of albums available at your local record store.

As a now long-time fan of Zac Brown Band, I must say that I was excited for the release of this album – especially after their recent sold out Australian tour, I was curious as to what ZBB had in store with the release of Jekyll + Hyde. And if there was ever a perfect title metaphor for an album, Jekyll + Hyde is it.

Describing the album’s direction, Zac told Rolling Stone earlier this year that it will have ‘things that people will expect and things that they won’t’. And, yeah, he’s right. The opening “Beautiful Drug” is a pop-radio appealing song with the possibility of breaching on having Eurovision-appeal. “Loving You Easy” follows, with its laid back-beachy vibe.

Tracks three and four are reminiscent of classic Zac Brown Band, although, “Remedy” combines the classic Zac Brown Band with Scottish bagpipes, African beats and it is in some ways, a little preachy. Track four, “Homegrown”, is a good catchy southern-rock anthem which I imagine would be amazing to see done live. It’s a song with the prime opportunity for an audience sing along – which don’t deny we all love?!

Things get weird again with the swing, jazz, big band Frank Sinatra-esque “Mango Tree” with Sara Barielles, followed by the gritty 90s alt-rock “Heavy in the Head” featuring Chris Cornell. If I were cool enough to like the Smashing Pumpkins in the 90s, I imagine “Heavy in the Head” would sit nicely on the album. The song is already hitting up the rock chart due also to its impressive electric guitar sounds.

Track seven, “Bittersweet”, a sweet ditty about loss, is followed by “Castaway” and has a Jamaican-Reggie island-like sound, the electronic-dance track “Tomorrow Never Comes”, mellow “One Day”, the Jason Isbell cover “Dress Blues” and the danceable “Young And Wild”.

Fans of Zac Brown Band’s live CD/DVD Pass The Jar will recognize track 13, “Junkyard.” I can’t pick which I like better, because they’re both very good, but this just over the 7-minute-mark-version feels more dark and moody and combines the use of the banjo with the electric guitar and a bluegrass snippet of Pink Floyd‘s “Is There Anybody Out There”. Top marks if you catch the Guns ‘N’ Roses‘ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” reference on “I’ll Be Your Man (Song For A Daughter)”. My favourite is track 15 – “Wildfire” – which is classic ZBB country with an impressive array of instrumental backing.

The final song on the album is an acoustic version of “Tomorrow Never Comes”; I can’t help but wonder if the song is needed on the album at all, but what it does show is that Zac Brown Band can take their songs from one style to another and both work. I equally like track 9 and 16’s interpretations of the song.

For an album that ranges from jazz, funk, blues, country, rock etc, it’s not that Jekyll + Hyde is a bad album. In fact, unlike most albums, I don’t think there is one bad song on the whole album. The problem with the album is that it’s a little disjointed. I tried to avoid reading other reviews to form an unbiased opinion, but temptation got the better of me and I read that I’m not alone in my feelings towards the album. Jekyll + Hyde takes you on a musical journey through a number of music tastes. Yes, it’s weird. Yes, it’s strangely wonderful. And yes, it will appeal to a lot of different people. I commend Zac Brown Band for taking a risk and doing something that is truly unique.

That being said, Zac Brown Band could sing the alphabet and I’d still be a fan. If you are going to take one thing away from this album, it shows how clearly talented Zac Brown and his band are at being able to tackle different genres successfully and make for an interesting artist to see live.

Review Score: 8 out of 10.

Jekyll + Hyde is out now.


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