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Album review: Zac Brown Band, "You Get What You Give"

zac brownGood luck finding something to enjoy on the new one by Zac Brown. (Linda Davidson/TWP)

By Chris Richards

If you're having a hard time spotting the differences between Nashville and Margaritaville, blame Kenny Chesney, the country superstar who found perennial success in the previous decade with a never-ending chain of Jimmy Buffett-inspired odes to rest and relaxation.

Now, country singers of various stripes can't stop crooning about the sand in their boots, the breezes in their hair, the Coronas in their bloodstream. . . . And on and on it goes, like so many waves lapping the shores of Cabo San Lucas. Intended to evoke a sense of escape, these songs now feel punishing -- like an evening spent looking at your neighbor's vacation photos.

Zac Brown Band would like to add a few more snapshots to that miserable, metastasizing slide show. The Georgia sextet's new album, "You Get What You Give," finds Brown lazing in the surf -- where else? -- just eight months after his group won the Grammy for best new artist and nearly two years after the breakout "Chicken Fried" topped Billboard's country singles chart.

But Brown isn't really peddling country music so much as a noxious mash of bar-band schlock, jam-band haze, freedom rock pomp and whatever it is that makes Dave Matthews induce dry heaves. The frontman's proud, clarion tenor resides at the center of his band's ambling licks, as he doles out lyrical wisdom-nuggets worthy of those motivational posters where dolphins leap out of the surf and into some Godforsaken dentist's office.

"Save your strength for things that you can't change," Brown advises on "Let It Go," the album's opening track. "Forgive the ones you can/You gotta let it go." With acoustic guitar strings plink-plucking behind him, Brown unveils his formula: Disguise slacker ambivalence as sage acceptance of fate and wash it down with a fiddle solo.

Brown's bandmates have chops, but the singer's voice always dominates -- like a smug James Taylor, devoid of vulnerability or self-doubt. You can hear it at its boldest during "Quiet Your Mind," another song about shrugging your shoulders as the tide rolls in. "It's a game you can't win," Brown pontificates from his beach chair, singing with an urgency that contradicts the song's easy-breezy moral: "Enjoy the ride."

The grand poobah of the beach, Jimmy Buffett, parasails in to offer his voice to "Knee Deep," a song that bobs along at a reggae-infused cadence without a care, a destination or a point. Together, he and Brown harmonize on the utterly forgettable refrain: "I think I might've found me my own kind of paradise."

Proof positive that one man's heaven is another man's hell.

By Chris Richards  | September 21, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Album reviews  | Tags:  Zac Brown Band  
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Smart move by the Washington Post by allowing some guy to review an album by a band that creates a genre of music that he completely despises. Sooo we get it, you hate DMB, Buffett, Chesney, and now Zac Brown. Next time assign an album review to somebody who clearly is open minded to the music.

Posted by: blanknerc | September 21, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

This is not a review. It's just complete band/genre bashing. How about a few words on the songs on the album? Reading this review was a waste of time. Enjoy your HELL!

Posted by: urrrlacher | September 21, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Bashing other extremely successful acts really gives you credence. Not. Sounds like the beach is not your thing. I'm sorry. Worst review I have ever read. I will never read another WP music review, ever.

Posted by: JHRover | September 22, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Wow, this is ridiculous. I hope you get fired, and then your replacement can write a real review. This album is one of the best ones out there.

Posted by: richard61 | September 22, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

You completely ignored the other 13 tracks (thats right there are 16 tracks on this album. God ZBB are such slackers) for 3 reggae influenced country songs. Next time you do an ALBUM review you do the whole album and not just a few songs.

Posted by: duztin5391 | September 22, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

This is crap!

I know that as a music critic you should honestly and confidently state your opinion. But I think your opinion is wrong, and because you apparently don’t love Jimmy Buffet, Dave Matthews, or Zac Brown you should definitely be fired.


I could learn how to understand criticism.
Thanks for being honest.

(BTW you were right about the new Arcade Fire)

Posted by: Mat_ | September 22, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Can you folks tell me what you like about Zac Brown Band? I'd love to know what you're hearing in this music that makes it pleasurable to you.

Yes, he has a strong voice and the band has chops. But are they using that voice/those chops to do anything compelling? I don't hear it.

Tell me what you're hearing that I'm not.

Posted by: ChrisRichards | September 22, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Wow, you are really going to pi.. some people off! On the contrary, I haven't found a track that I DON'T like... These guys are talented, I have seen them two times live and they give their all! This is such easy music to listen to, I don't know how you couldn't like it but after all you live in Washington, why would you give it a chance other than it IS YOUR JOB! Try listening again after you get all these negative comments!

Posted by: countrylistener | September 22, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse haven't a clue about the Zac Brown Band and what they are about. First of all...Last thing you should do is throw him into a Genre (do your research) He just happened to write a really good song that he strategically knew would draw a country audience and was what was a heartfelt song from his Georgia roots. However... He is a true artist that went for years without signing a label because he believed so much in what he wrote and produced. They are the real deal and not the cookie cutter garbage that all the money making record labels mass produce every single day to sell a record. If you're going to be in Journalism and be a true writer then do yourself a favor and write from the truth and not from some crap of judgment that you just did. Shame on you! GO Zac Brown and congratulations to you and showing your fans how to be true to yourself.

Posted by: mdimaggio1 | September 22, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

How did this guy get a job reviewing music? There are only 2 "beachy" songs on this album so I don't get what he is saying. This band clearly is one of the most diverse band arounds right now....hints their immense popularity. This review was a joke!

Posted by: holco38 | September 22, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Rock on Holco38.

Posted by: mdimaggio1 | September 23, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

While looking for some background on the "Father and Son" track from this album I came across this rather negative review that seems to contain very little opinions on the merit of this album, only the personal preferences of the reviewer. Something I wouldn't expect in an album review. Your dissection of lyrics; "Disguise slacker ambivalence as sage acceptance of fate and wash it down with a fiddle solo" - is a nice phrase and I might read more of your reviews if I thought you were talking about the Zac Brown Band. This album is laid back, but just because it doesn't always have a sharp tongue or social commentary doesn't mean it doesn't elicit emotion. Unlike the purported culprit of taking country to the beach, Kenny Chesney, this band comes across as a more authentic and more emotional (re-listen to Cold Hearted or Colder Weather). Speaking of Messer Chesney, I’m starting to think that the Post has something against Kenny after reading Chris Klimek review of Zac Brown’s 9:30 Club performance. Admittedly he steers more pop and should write more of his own material, but to use him as your only reference point highlights that you are missing the authenticity of Zac Brown’s southern sound. What about a Van Zant or another Southern Rock influence as a reference point? Jimmy Buffett is testament to this on CMT’s wonderful Crossroads program. I would like to hear more about the merits of the album and production in future reviews. You comments, although underhanded, regarding an overpowering vocal has merit. I think the producers have overemphasized this in too many places, but I would have never phrased it by comparing Zac Brown to a smug James Taylor. I think you might be missing the message of this album - Knee Deep is "without destination or a point" IS EXACTLY the point. You must have missed the opening line, "Gonna put the world away for a minute, pretend I don't live in it." I’m going to do the same for the Post’s album reviews for a while.

Posted by: adamspain | September 28, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

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