Uncaged, the latest album from the Grammy-winning Zac Brown Band, promises to make them kings of the rock-country world.
The Zac Brown Band made its name doling out the musical equivalent of summer vacation: In “Chicken Fried,” the Atlanta group’s first big hit, frontman Zac Brown describes the pleasure of “a cold beer on a Friday night,” while last year’s “Knee Deep” advocates “put[ting] the world away for a minute.” (The latter even features a guest appearance by the patron saint of taking it easy, Jimmy Buffett.) So it comes as something of a surprise that when Brown is asked about the band’s songwriting process, the first adjective he uses is “efficient.”
“Yeah, we’ve got our system down,” he says with a laugh, adding that he and his bandmates have never worked together as smoothly as they did while making their new album, Uncaged (Atlantic/Southern Ground, $17). “We’ve just really settled in, you know? We’re a band that travels, writes, arranges and plays together, and I think you can hear that on the record.”
He’s right: On Uncaged, the Zac Brown Band — which also includes violinist Jimmy De Martini, bassist John Driskell Hopkins, guitarist Coy Bowles, drummer Chris Fryar, multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook and new-recruit percussionist Daniel de los Reyes — moves through ditties like “Sweet Annie” and “The Wind” with an assurance that belies their stylistic complexity. Brown refers to the music as a mixture of country, bluegrass, rock and R&B, and that’s not even counting the whiff of the Caribbean that informs “Jump Right In.”
Brown credits the newest member, de los Reyes (who’s also played with Sting and Shakira), with helping to shape the new album’s sound, a sign of what Brown calls a lack of ego and hierarchy in the band. “As musicians, all of us are always learning and growing, just trying to get better,” he says. That goes for the rest of Zac Brown’s Southern Ground organization, too, he adds, which includes a record label, a merchandise-?manufacturing shop and a kids’ camp in Georgia with a mission to “allow children to overcome academic, social and emotional difficulties so they may reach their full potential.”
“My thing is to surround myself with positivity,” says Brown, who can be seen this month at the Allman Brothers Band’s Peach Music Festival in Scranton, Pa. “ ‘Whistle while you work’ — that’s the vibe of everything we do.”