Review – Zac Brown Band’s “My Old Man”

zac-brown-band-my-old-man

Welcome Home. As you longtime readers know, I wasn’t fond of Zac Brown Band’s last album Jekyll + Hyde. While it wasn’t a bad album, it was a disappointment and I let my criticisms of the album be known, most notably the lackluster songwriting and releasing an EDM song to country radio. They were better than this and many other fans expressed the same. The band seemed to get the message, as in late 2016 they let it be known their next album would go back to their roots. Now we get to hear if they walk the walk with their new single “My Old Man.” From the very first listen, it’s quite clear that this group is back where they belong. There’s no other way to put this: the song is gorgeous and features Zac Brown Band at their best. The song is about a man recalling the upbringing by his father and the impact it had on him. He’s now a father of his own and hoping to pass this along to his own son. All the while he’s hoping his father is still looking down on him, hoping he’s as proud of him as a man when he was a child. This is the type of impactful and emotion-packed songwriting I’ve been wanting to hear from them. Brown delivers the same type of vulnerable vocal performance that he delivered with “Grandma’s Garden” on Southern Family, perfectly fitting the song. The harmonies are great and well placed. Then we get to the instrumentation, which is an area Zac Brown Band has always thrived in. But they even take this to a new level, with the delicate acoustic guitar sweeping through the song and excellent fiddle play from Jimmy de Martini is heavily featured that was so lacking on the previous album. Of course credit has to also go to Dave Cobb, who is producing this song and the entirety of their upcoming album Welcome Home (I had a sneaking suspicion after seeing the band switched to Elektra/Warner). “My Old Man” is absolutely fantastic and this makes me pretty excited for what’s in-store for the rest of the album.

Grade: 9/10

 

Recommend? – YES!

 

Written by Zac Brown, Niko Moon & Ben Simonetti

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28 thoughts on “Review – Zac Brown Band’s “My Old Man”

  1. I find it funny how the two new lead singles released this week, one from Sam Hunt that’s been critically panned. While Zac Brown Band has been universally praised. Safe to say this’ll be the best song on the Mainstream Pulse.

    I love this song and I honestly cried listening to it. Just so beautiful and I am glad that both Little Big Town and Zac Brown Band are both releasing such great lead singles and giving real quality songs to the mainstream. Meanwhile The Band Perry hit self destruct on their country music career (typing that makes me happy).

    Definitie 10/10!

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  2. As someone who likes a wide variety of music, I can understand musicians who want to explore other musical styles that they enjoy, and in fact, when artists don’t explore new ground, I think their material tends to get stale. So I don’t begrudge ZBB the EDM foray as much as most…even if EDM is just about my least favorite musical genre.

    I am happy to see them going back to their roots though in this release, even if I don’t love it as much as most. For me, this song is good but not great. It just gets a little to ham handed on the sentimentality. This song is also slow, in an of itself, that’s not a problem, but I’ve noticed that tendency in a lot of Cobb’s work & the East Nash movement in general. I’m hoping that the album will include some true up-tempo’s bc really up-tempo fiddle is one of my absolute favorite things.

    So maybe strong 6/light 7?

    I have wondered though how Cobb produced songs would fare at radio if sung by an artist in favor at radio, this is a start.

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    • Oh at the end of the day I don’t begrudge them for trying either. It didn’t really work as far as the EDM and they should have brought someone in who knows their stuff regarding the genre. I will say their forays into straight up rock were great and I’ve always said I wanted to hear a full album with Dave Grohl after hearing the Grohl Sessions EP.

      Cobb does tend to go slow. But he can do up tempo well too outside of Sturgill. One that immediately comes to mind is Anderson East’s debut Delilah. Of course he’s in that Muscle Shoals sound. Then there’s his work as producer on hard rock/blue rock outfit Rival Sons’ Great Western Valkyrie, which to me is arguably his best work (toss up between that and Simpson’s Metamodern).

      I’ve wondered this too in regards to radio, but technically we’ve actually already seen this with A Thousand Horses’ “Smoke” as Cobb produced their debut Southernality. It should be pointed out though that was On The Verge and the subsequent singles all stalled out. And then of course Stapleton who has yet to go past #10 on the charts. But yes this will be the first real test. My initial expectation is this will reach top ten at least, as ZBB’s lead singles always do well. But I’m not sure beyond this because this isn’t something radio usually goes for.

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      • Anderson East isn’t uptempo, he’s doing more mid-tempo jazz-y stuff (to me), and is an Isbell wanna-be…and I preferred Isbell with the drive by truckers (I could go on a whole Anderson East rant, some of which is a him problem, and some of which is a me problem).

        But yes Cobb can go up-tempo, he did with with Wheeler Walker Jr too.

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      • Again, my main criticism of this song reflected below is NOT about it being too “slow” but, rather, because it doesn’t really sound like a Zac Brown Band song. It sounds more like a Zac Brown solo song.

        That may be it with Dave Cobb. He is a master at producing honest-to-goodness intimate, emotionally poignant and autobiographical singer-songwriter albums, but he’s still trying to come into his own with producing group efforts without also treating them simply as singer-songwriter albums. Oddly enough he did produce Judah & The Lion’s f***in’ awful “Folk Hop N’ Roll” (which is making an impact on Alternative radio) and he’s just all over the place on that one. But overall, I think he’s just widely regarded as an exemplary singer-songwriter kind of producer.

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      • I think Dave Cobb has gotten unfairly pigeonholed by country music fans. In a addition to Rival Sons, he also produced the most recent Europe (yes, that Europe, “The Final Countdown”) album, which was excellent. Also, Whiskey Myers’ Mud is not exactly a slow tempo album. That also counters the arguments further down about him being a singer/songwriter producing specialist.

        Granted, I have not listened to the ZBB song yet, and won’t until the full album comes out. That’s just how I roll, but I just wanted to weigh in on the Dave Cobb stuff.

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  3. I’ve never been a big fan of “dad” songs that are not called “Drive,” they always feel way too sentimental and use the same imagery and themes over and over. Thus, I really can’t say I that I love this, but it’s definitely great to have the “good” Zac Brown Band back. The fiddle part is gorgeous and the harmonies have always been their calling card. A Dave Cobb produced ZBB album should definitely be interesting.

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  4. Yes, excellent! It’s still going to be hard for me to forgive and forget “Beautiful Drug,” but, hey, I was able to forgive Tim McGraw for “Truck Yeah” after he changed course. With Dave Cobb at the helm and an apparently more chastened and mature Zac Brown, I am very hopeful about this new album.

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  5. Great emotion through the lyrics and the instrumentation. I’ll admit i got misty eyed reading the lyrics and seeing the pictures rolling by. I lost my dad 5 years ago and I’m going to be a father myself pretty soon, so this really hit the mark. I agree with the grade 100%. Great song.

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  6. Wow. This is by far one of the best singles that ZBB has put out so far. I love the emotion and the overall country instrumentation, as well as the message that this song delivers. It really allows listeners like myself to connect with the song. I hope that they remember this for their next album, and that it’s as good as this song. A perfect 10/10 for sure!

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  7. Excellent song! I’m looking forward to this album. And looking on the track list, I’m excited to see “Trying to Drive” included. They released a live version of that song on their Pass The Jar album. I hope they bring in Aslyn on the studio version too, I haven’t seen if she’s featured or not yet.

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    • Holy crap I forgot this was on the live album. I definitely hope they bring in Asyln also. I haven’t seen her featured, but maybe it’s uncredited. But yeah I can’t wait to hear how the studio version of this turns out with Cobb at the helm.

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    • Yeah, I noticed the track listing as well.

      It’s interesting to note the record will consist of only ten songs. On one hand, it’s an immediate relief that they’re not falling prey to needlessly bloated track listings like Broken Bow artists are known for and their previous album also succumbed to. But on the other hand, it makes me curious if this is going to be more of a jam-band album with a heightened emphasis on instrumental interplay and the live show explicitly in mind, or a particularly concise album wrought with radio-ready anthems that owe back to their earlier eras.

      Frankly, I hope it’s the former.

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  8. This is a great song! Looks like Zac Brown Band has really turned a corner and learned their lesson after the gosh-awful Beautiful Drug. My Old Man will undoubtedly be best song on the mainstream pulse. Which leads me to wonder, when was the last time we actually had a +5 song on the current pulse of mainstream country? I’ve seen good songs, but I can’t recall ever seeing a +5 on the mainstream pulse. And as always, great review!

    My personal score: 9 out of 10

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  9. I never doubted, when Zac had announced that they were “going back to their roots, ‘Foundation’-style”, that they would own up to their word. After all, “JEKYLL + HYDE” was their only album that had transpired between where some longtime fans felt they were starting to go astray and where they remained at the top of their game (“The Grohl Sessions: Volume I”).

    The longer seasoned artists go into their recording careers and trudge further away from their roots, it stands to reason it will be less likely they can ever truly return in earnest because one’s creative headspace and experience is clearly residing elsewhere. But with the Zac Brown Band, they had only stepped out beyond the balustrade for two years so I thought all the “I’ll believe it when I hear it myself!” skepticism was misplaced.

    *

    And as it has turned out, they’re delivering on their word here.

    This song is by no means perfect, but it IS about as perfect a return to home as I imagine their most longtime fans could have ever hoped for.

    *

    First, I’ll just go ahead and get my primary criticism out of the way: “My Old Man” still doesn’t feel like a full band collaboration.

    Look, for the sake of dynamics, I get why they’re naturally releasing something most intimate and understated after an era of comparable polish and excess (for the most part). But to my ears at least, this still sounds like a Zac Brown solo effort with Jimmy De Martini making a feature fiddle appearance at the end and the other band members serving as session back-up vocalists.

    And lest we forget, there were moments on “JEKYLL + HYDE” in which did come across as convincing collaborative efforts. “Bittersweet” sounded like more of a group effort than this does, as did “Remedy”, “Junkyard” and their cover of Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues”. For a Zac Brown solo effort, this sounds great, but it can’t help but underwhelm as a return effort under the Zac Brown Band moniker.

    *

    Looking past that impossible-to-ignore thought, though, this is undoubtedly a solid, well-rounded effort from the lyrics to the vocals to the harmonies.

    I was concerned early in the song that the lyrics would instantly devolve to cheesiness because, let’s be honest: father-dad songs usually are. But Zac Brown wisely refrains from trying to reach for a higher key or “Eureka” moment and just summarizes his evolving experience as a father himself and what he hopes he will instill in his son. It makes for a most believable, genuinely heartfelt effort that doesn’t overstay its welcome or come across more as a parody of a sentimental tearjerker than an intimate song about the spiritual bond of a father and son.

    Again, the group’s signature vocal harmonies are not all that present here outside the titular chant in the chorus, but they work well where they resonate. I’d say Brown’s vocal is the single strongest feature of this effort in that, as we know all too well, it has a distinctive well-worn flavor that contributes a great deal to the intended, biographical feel of the song.

    *

    In the end, no: I’m not as impressed with this song as Josh is. It just lacks the interplay and instrumental flavor of the band at its primordial core. When I think “The Foundation”, I think intimate, acoustic-driven instrumentation spiced up with group harmonies, its members exchanging their own instrumental solos, and a rustic, hickory-scented ambiance to the presentation. This……………..doesn’t exactly feel like that. It sounds more like an exquisitely-engineered Zac Brown solo cut performed live in studio at KDHX or something (which, mind you, isn’t a bad thing.)

    Still, this is a solid offering with honest lyrics, solid vocals and a downhome intimacy that I’ll instantaneously root for over 95% of all else clogging the mainstream country/”country” chart right now. It’s damn good if short of great.

    I’m thinking a very Strong 7 out of 10 for this.

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    • I will say in regards to your criticism of this feeling more like a solo effort over a group effort: I have a strong feeling this song is part of a bigger piece of the puzzle, in that I think Welcome Home is going to be a concept album and that this song will sound even better in the context of the full album (similar to Miranda Lambert’s “Vice”). At least that’s what I get from the track listing. Also I wouldn’t want them to go exactly back to their sound on The Foundation, as I feel an artist should strive to release something different each time. Really what I’m hoping for is a cross of somewhere between The Foundation and Uncaged (which I think is their best album to date). While I want Cobb to do his thing, I hope the band doesn’t stop taking chances. As I said before the main thing is they need to tighten up their songwriting, which is what they do with this song.

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      • That’s certainly a fair point.

        On its own though, as a solitary effort, it definitely sounds like an acoustic solo session with Jimmy De Martini briefly dropping by to play fiddle.

        “The Foundation” is actually my second least-favorite album of theirs because its follow-ups (besides the hit-and-miss “JEKYLL + HYDE”) just sound more developed and realized in comparison. I thought the lyrics were still often lacking on “You Get What You Give”, but the high points cut deeper than on “The Foundation” and they expanded their identity without sounding gimmicky. And “Uncaged” was even better in that their songwriting finally started to catch up to the music, which continued with “The Grohl Sessions” along with their best production to date.

        And another frustrating thing was that I considered the rockers the best-written songs lyrically (originals, anyway) on “JEKYLL + HYDE”. “Junkyard” and “Heavy Is The Head” both cut much deeper than the songs that were intended to be either country or country-tinged. I honestly wouldn’t mind if they record more heavier rock songs, though preferably with a different producer. They handle that style very convincingly and naturally unlike EDM.

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  10. I feel like it would be remiss also not to consider how Sir Rosevelt factors into the direction of this album.

    Zac Brown mentioned a couple weeks ago that Sir Rosevelt has inked a new record deal that apparently is a big deal and will help give the trio much broader exposure. He added that is why they had postponed their debut album release date.

    We also know he said before in a Billboard interview (where he sounded rather grumpy that day with “haters” and all! =P ) that Sir Rosevelt were intending to share a number of bills with the Zac Brown Band: serving as the after-party band after the Zac Brown Band and an intermission.

    *

    So, it will be interesting to see how this double-dutch jumping between the two acts pans out in the coming weeks and months.

    And “My Old Man” doesn’t fully relieve concerns I have that the Zac Brown Band may be trying too hard to cut intimate acoustic music for the sake of intimate acoustic music and just setting aside anything with greater tempo with Sir Rosevelt, while overlooking the fact “The Foundation” also had wild hayrides of romps in “Mary”, “Sic ‘Em on a Chicken” and “It’s Not OK”. I sure hope that’s not the case.

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    • Sir Rosevelt is definitely a factor with this album. Brown had to realize that his EDM aspirations just weren’t going to fly with ZBB, so he has to go get this itch out elsewhere. I don’t think he’s going to just set aside the up tempo ones for this side project and it’s more of a way to get his EDM/pop ideas out while reserving the rest for ZBB. I think the group and Brown are smart enough to realize they shouldn’t get rid of uptempo all together, as some of their best songs are up tempo. I do however expect this album to be their most quiet album, as I think they’re trying to make up for a lot of the shallow and polished songs on Jekyll + Hyde. Which is why it didn’t surprise me at all they led off this era with a more sparse and serious song after their previous singles were pretty lightweight. I hear your concerns with them overcorrecting and filling the album with nothing but super serious songs, but I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. As I’ve said their songwriting is what has always held them back from going to a new level and if it takes one album of mostly serious songs to fix this going forward I won’t complain. But as I said I don’t see the entire album being similar to “My Old Man” because that will be almost as alienating as releasing EDM songs to longtime fans. However I could see half of the album being like this.

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      • Another thing that makes Sir Rosevelt interesting is how, in the Billboard interview, Zac Brown had admitted that the Zac Brown Band has already established an image in the United States and sounded frustrated by getting pigeonholed in an attempt to make the band known to Europe and elsewhere. So that was part of the motivation to create a new group to market internationally.

        But if both acts are sharing a number of future bills together, it’ll prove rather difficult for cynics not to view Sir Rosevelt as an off-shoot of the Zac Brown Band instead of a separate entity. It would be supremely awkward to hear the Zac Brown Band near-close their set with something as sentimental as “Colder Weather”, and ten minutes later interject “higher than a motherf***er” with Sir Rosevelt on “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us”.

        Essentially, I almost look at this like Choice Hotels operating two separate brandnames under the same umbrella playing to completely different demographics. Much like EconoLodge and Cambria appeal to different demographics and locales, it’s like the Zac Brown Band is being treated as a North America-centric venture and Sir Rosevelt is being treated as an Europe/Oceania centric venture.

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  11. This song really brings me to tears so much. This kind of song and venerability is what I want to hear and I hope Lady Antebellum make a song like this and it will be a perfect fit for them better than their latest anf previous songs. 😭👍🎶

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