Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Driven by awe inspiring musicianship, skillful songwriting and a dynamic live show that inspires word-of-mouth buzz, Zac Brown Band is already embraced by audiences who sing along with every word. Playing upwards of 200 dates a year, more than 2,500 shows in their career and selling more than 30,000 CDs independently, Zac Brown Band has only begun its ascent. The band's aggressive touring has helped it develop a fanatical grassroots following by winning over believers one person at a time.
The Foundation is the first major-label studio album by the Zac Brown Band, an American country music band. It was released on November 18, 2008 (see List of albums released in 2008). Originally slated for release on the Home Grown/Bigger Picture label, the album is distributed by Atlantic Records in association with those two labels. On December 2, 2009, the album was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Country Album. and also earned the band the Grammy Award for Best New Artist on January 31. The album also has been nominated for the 2010 Academy of Country Music Awards "Album of the Year" award.
"The Zac Brown Band could easily be described as country music's feel-good story of 2008. A typically hard-working, long-touring regional band that has worked its way up to a major label record deal, the Atlanta based five-piece has already scored a top five hit on country radio with lead single "Chicken Fried." Despite the band's early success, however, its Atlantic debut The Foundation, which features everything from Latino-infused flare to reggae breakdowns to radio-friendly country, sometimes blurs the line between diversity and inconsistency.
For the most part, the band makes it work, bringing all of these stylistic variations together to create a unique sound. A few tracks stretch too far, however, and interrupt what is otherwise a very good album. "Where The Boat Leaves From," which sounds like a demo that might end up on Kenny Chesney's desk, is one of these. The lyrics lack emotion and originality, especially in the needlessly repetitive chorus that states, "Get away to where the boat leaves from/It takes away all of your big problems." With instrumentation full of cheesy island-vibe, it's a track that just doesn't seem to mesh with the rest of the album.
In contrast, album-opener "Toes" takes a more refreshing look at the same "let's get away to the beach" theme. Here Brown narrates a vacation by making use of fun imagery and one fiesta of a chorus, bringing things full circle when the singer returns to his country home, where, instead of longing for the beach again, he kicks back with his toes in the clay (not sand) and takes a long sip of PBR. Now that's more like it.
One mainstay throughout The Foundation is Brown's understated (and perhaps underrated) vocals. Brown is a formidable front-man for this group, and his voice really shines on "Free," a gentle love song that manages to show the softer side of his grizzly image. It is a touching ballad that soars behind Brown's big voice.
Throughout the album, the band takes quite a few gambles in terms of production by mixing up rhythms and leaving ample space for instrumentals, though there are certain songs obviously aimed towards country radio. "Chicken Fried" more or less just mashes together all the elements of typical country radio fare (fried chicken, beer, radio, mothers, love, children, freedom, soldiers, etc.) into one song, while "A Different Kind of Fine" falls under this same pattern, paying homage to the typical country girl. Of course, like any good country girl, this one wears a ball cap, has a body like a longneck bottle, and is not the Cadillac/caviar type.
Overall, The Foundation mostly contains strong material with familiar themes like the simple love song "Whatever It Takes," the bluegrass laden ode-to-a-girl "Mary," and the geographical heartbreak song "Highway 20 Ride."
Unfortunately, the album doesn't end there.
The last song, "Sic 'Em On A Chicken," is a real head-scratcher. The fiddle-laden talking song is a page straight out of Charlie Daniels' book, automatically making it feel a bit watered down. Then there are the lyrics, which primarily deal with sending a dog out to kill a pesky chicken, and ultimately - you guessed it - making some chicken pot pie. Rounding out the song is a booming electric guitar solo that adds dramatic effect to the poor bird's demise. It's clear that the ZBB is just trying to have a little light-hearted fun here, but the song ends up feeling like an inside joke that nobody else gets.
Even though there may be a few duds, The Foundation is still a solid debut album from a solid band. It's a record that showcases everything the Zac Brown Band is: a tight-knit group of musicians who enjoy experimenting with an eclectic mix of styles." - The9513
"That's the only explanation why a little previously unsigned non-major-label band out of Georgia called the Zac Brown Band has their single "Chicken Fried" racing up the country charts this month. The band line-up consists of Zac Brown (lead vocals, guitars), Jimmy De Martini (fiddle, vocals), John Driskell Hopkins (bass, vocals), Coy Bowles (guitar, organ), and Chris Fryer (drums). The band has toured throughout the United States, including a slot on the 2006 Bonnaroo Music Festival and support slots for bands such as The Allman Brothers Lynard Skynyrd and B.B. King. It was with great anticipation, after hearing the first single "Chicken Fried" (which is my new favorite single on radio) that I had the opportunity to review their forthcoming album, The Foundation.
Brown and his band mates delivery best in the fact that he covers genres and styles fluidly, dynamically pulling musical styles that cover Americana, blues, island-country, gospel and very traditional country. Brown's lyrics seem to cover an entire culture of American music in one album. Each song is a seamless patchwork of what sounds best across our radio music dials:
Those descriptions notwithstanding, none of the album feels "copied." They take what's best from each of those influences and put their own twist on it. Each tune has a distinct ZBB stamp to it that make it all their own. Even with its vast influence, the band's delivery keeps it together and the genre in tact. The lyrics ring true with references to traveling on the road, pennies in pockets and hometowns in Georgia. It keeps it real.
The Foundation is my favorite album discovery of the year. There's something worthwhile knowing that a band's new-found fame is actually the result of putting tens of thousands of miles on a collective van across Southern dive bars-selling CD's they've burned themselves to pay the gas and food bills. They've earned fame (and their skill) the hard way. And it shows. After years of being the lead-in on bigger names, they have the opportunity to shine themselves as the featured product. Shine they do. The Foundation by the Zac Brown Band is a must-own for any country music aficionado." - ThatNashvilleSound
"With hit single "Chicken Fried" in heavy radio rotation, Zac Brown and his band of the same name truly introduce themselves in "The Foundation," despite three respectable previous albums. Brown's gifts come best in the fact that he appeals to other genres, without compromising his core. Just as "Free" possesses a climactic opening, built upon Americana-influenced string play, "Chicken Fried" pulls from '90s Rock elements, while other songs hint at Gospel and greater roots-based muses. The Zac Brown Band is musically dynamic, and just as each verse appears intricately written, the music feels rehearsed, heavily-considered, and the three years since the group's last studio album are not unspoken for. "The Foundation" is rich.
The writing is this album's charm. Although he writes primarily of love, home and nostalgia, "The Foundation" refuses to be redundant. "Jolene," one of several album songs dedicated to a woman, sets the singer buying cigarettes in the morning rain prompting a pensive jaunt down memory lane, to an unforgettable woman. The song uses a sparse chorus, as several efforts do, that reminds the listener that while Brown may have scored his first Top 40 hit, the singer hardly pandered his formula to do so. "Chicken Fried," despite its anthem-like chorus, should be recognized for the images used to construct the true sense of home. Hailing from Georgia, Brown's words seem to span a whole culture of Americans, and although his references to towns and highways are specific, like a true artist, he makes it universal.
Produced by Keith Stegall of Alan Jackson fame, this album feels contained-yet-unpredictable. With its vast influence, Brown's delivery keeps genre in tact, although musically, the producer and band seemed to set few limits. Foundation was recorded so that each musician and band-member had a heavy hand in every song, and an album that sounds complex and mosiac-like at home, but made to be performed live. This quintet has arrived, and after a decade of being a group that may have been the center of attention each night on a tour-stop, they now are truly artists, reaching for more than whatever group paid the price of admission.
"The Foundation" is a sweet surprise of 2008. With tours promoted by Live Nation, and a distribution deal with Atlantic Records, it's safe to assume that this music will be treated differently, now with its major backers. However, as skeptics can point to numerous occurrences when the recording industry made stars out of novices, the Zac Brown Band has the track record to prove their dues are paid, and the writing and music to make them, just as Dave Matthews Band is to Rock, a converging-point for so many fans of music, verse and ambiance. The only drawback is that a summer passed before one of the year's would-have-been essential summer albums hit shelves. Yet, country fried leftovers have always been just about as good as they were the first day." -RoughStock
Billboard (p.77) - "Traditional country toe-tapper 'Mary' highlights the group's tight harmonies, and the touching 'Highway 20 Ride,' about shared custody of a child, is a stone-country smash."
Personnel: Brent Mason (electric guitar); Greenwood Hart (accordion, keyboards); Gary Prim (keyboards); Marcus Petruska (drums, background vocals).
Audio Mixer: John Kelton.
Recording information: Brighter Shade Studio, Atlanta, GA; Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas; The Sound Station Nashville, TN; Wedgewood Sound.
Photographer: C. Taylor Crothers.
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