Release Date: May 12, 2017
Record label: Atlantic
Since releasing The Foundation in 2008, the Zac Brown Band have enjoyed consistent success, hit songs, and a robust catalog. Two years after the experimental Jekyll + Hyde, the band returns with Welcome Home, their fifth studio album and first for Elektra Records. It's a nice set of tracks, stylistically reaching back to their debut and strategically away from the experimentation of its predecessor.
Welcome Home is a telling title for the fifth album by the Zac Brown Band. It's a statement of comfort from the ZBB, letting fans who found the genre-bending experiments of the 2015 set Jekyll + Hyde disquieting know that the group has gotten back to basics. Such reassurances aren't limited to the record's name, either. Welcome Home begins with an ode to the Zac Brown Band's "Roots," before they tell listeners that they're the "Real Thing" in for the "Long Haul" -- and that's all within the first three songs! All of these proclamations of authenticity are set to the ZBB's trademark mellow vibe, a signature anchored in the smooth sounds of the '70s.
Coming from a multi-platinum star whose fans criticized his band's last album, Jekyll + Hyde, for straying too far into crossover pop territory, Zac Brown's constant reassurances throughout Welcome Home that he's still just a regular dude, set to 40 minutes of aggressively bland Americana, give off the stench of overcompensation. And to lend street cred to this stylistic regression to their original stripped-down country-pop style, Zac Brown Band turned to Dave Cobb, who's sat in the producer's chair for the breakthroughs of seemingly every “savior of real country” to emerge in the last few years. Welcome Home is unmistakably a Cobb production, slick yet rootsy, full of beautifully textured electric slide guitars and pristinely captured vocals and acoustic guitars that sound like a perfect blend of close mic-ing and room ambience.
Zac Brown Band has spent the better part of their career oscillating between their dual reputations as classic country traditionalists and experimental genre-pushers. "I'm Southern as can be," Brown said in 2015, "but I'm a traveler of the world also." Lately, that tension has come to a head: Two years after colliding jazz, dance-pop, hard rock and reggae on 2015's Jekyll + Hyde, Zac Brown Band returns with a back-to-basics collection of odes to the band's musically humble roots. The origins of Brown's new album can be traced to a one-off song Brown recorded for producer Dave Cobb's 2016 concept album Southern Family, a collection of paint-by-numbers tributes to familial piety.