by Catherine Goldberg ’20 A&E Staff
This past Friday, September 20 Zac Brown Band dropped their sixth studio album, The Owl, and have received mixed feedback.
In the past decade, Zac Brown Band has been one of the most popular and successful country music groups. With hits like “Chicken Fried,” “Knee Deep,” and “Homegrown,” the group seems to be on everyone’s radar, whether they like country music or not. In the past year, the band has hired a new manager, Scooter Braun, the well-known manager of Justin Bieber. With Braun managing this country band alongside numerous other famous pop artists, many anticipated a pop vibe on Zac Brown Band’s new album. The three-time Grammy Award-winning band decided to explore new sounds in The Owl, featuring unexpected collaborations. According to Rolling Stone, this “marks Zac Brown Band’s most personal and genre-defying album to date.” The album name is inspired by the lore surrounding the great horned owl. This owl can see perfectly at night, making it a symbol of a reliable guide, even during the darkest times.
The 11-song set consists of some powerhouse collaborations. Number six on the track list, titled “Finish What We Started,” features Brandi Carlile. Other titles include “Already on Fire,” “The Woods,” “Warrior,” and “OMW.”
“Need This” was co-produced by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, songwriter and producer Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd, and country songwriter Andrew DeRoberts. This song is a chill, laid back tune about Zac Brown on a beach getaway, much like the band’s signature hit “Toes.”
An anticipated hit song on the album is “God Given,” which has already been featured in ZBB’s live show Leaving Love Behind. The lead single “Someone I Used to Know” was released in November 2018, almost an entire year ago. That song made it to number 34 on the Top Country charts.
Some critics, such as Rolling Stone and The Daily Campus, are loving the new album. However, a lot of country music lovers have been shaking their heads since the release. Popular Youtube country music critic Grady Smith said he had two words in response to the album, “What happened?” He says the band has been known for “their harmony, their incredible instrumentation, yet also their welcoming, fun, warm, excellent musicality that has almost a Grateful Dead-like following.” He says that they have tried to explore pop-sounds before in their Jekyll + Hyde album, but went back to their original country sound with Welcome Home.
However, in this album, Smith said ZBB has gone “full tilt crazy.” Other critics on websites such as Saving Country Music fear that one of the best country music bands has taken a turn for the worst, echoing artists like Taylor Swift who have fallen from the favor of country music critics after a shift in genre.
From these reviews, we can see that Zac Brown Band is at a crossroads. Either they can continue exploring new sounds and genres, or go back to their roots which have given them incredible success over the years.