Album Review – Zac Brown Band’s “The Comeback”
Two things that true country and true hip-hop have in common is how they’re music of the people, and so authenticity and heart matters. You want to believe whomever is performing for you. You don’t want some dude named Clarence who went to a private school pretending he’s a gangster. You don’t have to be out there riding the range and herding cattle like Colter Wall to sing country, but you do want to know there’s conviction from the person who is singing. It’s essential to the magic of the music.
With Zac Brown, it’s just hard to know where his heart truly is anymore, or where it ever was. After initially shocking many of us when he led the Zac Brown Band album Jekyll + Hyde from 2015 off with the heavily EDM-influenced track “Beautiful Drug,” he would go on to start an EDM side project with Niko Moon and Ben Simonetti called Sir Rosevelt. Along with being caught with hookers and blow in a Florida Four Seasons hotel, it appeared that the good ol’ country boy from Georgia known for his Southern-fried soulful radio-friendly country rock had lost his passion for roots music entirely, and was off into the world of synth pulses, bass drops, and designer drugs.
When Sir Rosvelt flopped, and there was a minor revolt within the Zac Brown Band fan base, the band released 2017’s Welcome Home as a return to their roots. That’s right, this new album isn’t the first time they’ve pulled this stunt. Welcome Home was fine, and you couldn’t help but root for Zac Brown returning to the style of music you knew him for. But was there conviction behind the effort, or was he just giving the fans what they wanted, while his heart had moved on to the more enticing world of club music?
It turned out to be the latter, as Zac Brown Fans were once again sent on a roller coaster when he released 2019’s The Owl, filled with bad EDM and worse white boy rapping about Gucci bags an Veyron whips (whatever they are), and shortly thereafter Zac did himself even one worse with a solo project called The Controversy that went even further down a hype music rabbit hole. Both of these projects were proceeded by Zac Brown professing how he couldn’t be tied down by the old, stuffy conventions of genre. He was too creative for that. After all, he gave us Welcome Home, and the singles flopped, and the sales lagged. It was all our fault for not understanding his brilliance and artistry.
And of course, just like Sir Rosevelt, The Owl flopped even worse than Welcome Home, and The Controversy became almost like a curiosity piece of modern music. Even the mainstream country outlets that normally wave their pom-poms for every piece of dreck processed on the Music Row conveyor belt were completely weirded out.
So here Zac Brown goes again, making The Comeback to his roots. You know, just like he did on Welcome Home. At this point, you have every right to be sporting a neck brace and calling up a shady ambulance-chasing lawyer from the whiplash Zac Brown has given you. It’s gotten to the point of parody. How are you supposed to hit the reset button with this guy a second time, especially after he gave us all a talking to about how we we’re selfish morons for believing in genre when he released The Owl? How are you supposed to believe there is any heart or conviction behind this music?
But I have to say, shoving all the Gucci-labeled baggage, the hookers, the cocaine, the synth pulses and everything else that comes with merely mentioning Zac Brown’s name aside and just judging it for what it is, The Comeback isn’t half bad.
If you go to a party and someone’s playing Florida Georgia Line, you politely find the exit, or you head to the cooler and start slamming adult beverages to numb yourself. But with this? Eh, whatever. It’s fine, inoffensive, Southern-fried soulful radio-friendly country rock. In short, it’s a Zac Brown Band record. It’s a very Zac Brown Band record in fact, almost strikingly so. Not great, not terrible. Good for the mainstream, though independent country fans will probably be nonplussed. But objectively, it’s okay.
The Comeback sees big contributions from songwriters Wyatt Beasley Durrette III, Ben Simonetti, Jonathan Singleton, and a few other names thrown in there as well. There’s a couple of songs you could see doing well on the radio, like the fairly inspired “Us Against the World” and “Out in the Middle,” a pretty down home roosty and silly country song in “Fun Having Fun,” a heartfelt moment in “Love and Sunsets,” and even a pretty great 7-minute epic with Marcus King called “Stubborn Pride” that they luckily didn’t cut the extended solo on the end from.
Also, this isn’t just Zac Brown with a laptop like The Owl was. This album is the Zac Brown Band, and utilizes the cast of world-class musicians he has behind him to its benefit. If Zac Brown hadn’t taken this band down the primrose path of EDM and whatever else, and gone from Uncaged, to Welcome Home, to now this, we probably would be regarding them in a completely different light at the moment, and how most of us considered them from the beginning. Aside from some of the lame “toes in the sand” beach songs (there’s another on this album called “Lost On Me”), and the rather shallow “Chicken Fried,” they’ve been a brighter spot in the mainstream, and return to that form here.
But just like most any mainstream album, most of the songs on The Comeback just don’t veer off the script enough to feel too incredibly compelling or original. Actually Zac Brown at one point said, “All the songs on here can have like—be a sister to other songs in our catalog that people know—that they know well.” Of course few if anyone would endorse whatever Zac was off into a couple of years ago. But you can’t blame them for going back to what worked in the past.
And still, it all just makes you wonder, what is Zac Brown’s calculus here? Is the Zac Brown Band back to making Zac Brown Band music for good? Was the pressure on touring purses from fleeing fans just too much to keep experimenting with other styles of music Zac Brown will never make it big in no matter how much he may desire to? Or is this just another smoke screen setting us up for the inevitable screwball coming from Zac in 18 months? Where is his conviction? Hell, if EDM is really what he wants to do, maybe he should do it. That’s better than making music than no heart, no matter how it’s received.
We’ll just have to see. But The Comeback is where the Zac Brown Band is for now, which is also where they started, and probably where they always should have been, and where they always should be. It may not work for you, but it works for them, because it’s who they are, as opposed to who they want to be.
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October 19, 2021 @ 7:49 am
This album felt way too paranoid in terms of experimentation. Like the phenomenal Uncaged. It feels as if they don’t want to get out of a traditional headspace so they don’t get any outcry. After the the owl, perhaps they were told to go off a formula and stick to it, who’s to say
Wilson Pick It
October 19, 2021 @ 8:04 am
Things can get weird once an act passes their peak. A good example in Neil Young in the 80’s, when he was sued by his record companies for not making very Neil Young music.
In the end, they usually come around because they want the payday. Zac Brown has been lucky so far because he hasn’t lost the Zac Brown Band. I bet if they stick around long enough they’ll actually come out with something good again. From what I’ve heard, this album ain’t it, but at least they’re trying to salvage what they can.
October 19, 2021 @ 11:44 am
I’m not sure they needed to make another “country” sounding record. I know several people that are always going to zac Brown shows when he tours in the area. These same people seem unaware that he has ever releases EDM sounding stuff at all…it’s as if the casual fan never caught wind of the weird shit.
October 19, 2021 @ 8:20 am
What a strange journey his career has been… we saw them in concert about 10 years ago in Louisville and it was a truly incredible show – their musicianship is absolutely top-notch. I still think Highway 20 Ride is one of the better songs of the past couple decades (and they didn’t even play it at the concert, oddly enough). All in all he lost me a few albums ago… but you’re spot-on about the world class musicians behind him.
October 19, 2021 @ 8:25 am
Never been able to make up my mind about this band. They’re talented… seen em at music festivals, and their talent/skills are impressive. Yet, the music leaves me a bit unsatisfied. Some songs are good, others, eh…
I try not to discount them, like to give em a chance, but nothing ever knocks my socks off enough to get too excited about them. But if others like em, and like this album, don’t mind me – enjoy
October 19, 2021 @ 8:28 am
I have never been a fan, so I will pass on this one as well.that has got to be one of the worst album covers I have ever seen. If his fans like it and the music fine. They just do not do any thing for me.
October 19, 2021 @ 8:39 am
ZBB kind of reinvigorated the “group” acts at their beginning. In their wake, groups starting making a comeback in the gnere. Unfortunately, most of them suck.
ZBB was hit or miss for me with the misses stacking up the latter half of their commercial run. Maybe ole’ Zach is getting over his mid-life crisis. Who knows with this band.
October 19, 2021 @ 8:40 am
I’ve never been so excited to NOT listen to an album, in my life.
October 19, 2021 @ 8:50 am
Be nice to see an article on Buddy Brown who is genuinely Country and Western unlike Zac Brown or Kane Brown (who aren’t yet have both been covered on this site on more than a few occasions) just a thought https://youtu.be/7Z2yCBnlvBA?list=OLAK5uy_m_aIvH1-fb5-SOTCm5E8oFHnnR2DYSois
October 19, 2021 @ 10:40 am
Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll check Buddy Brown out.
For the record, just over the last couple of weeks I’ve written reviews for The Royal Hounds, Noel McKay, Joshua Ray Walker, H. Self, as well as Brandi Carlile and Cody Johnson just to name some. Every year I try to cover the biggest five or six big releases in the mainstream, and this was one of them. But it’s never at the sacrifice of independent artists. It’s important to cover and criticize the mainstream too, and keep holding their feet to the fire. I can’t cover every album, but I cover quite a few, and way more independent artists than mainstream ones.
October 19, 2021 @ 1:29 pm
^for what it’s worth, his review of ZBB’s last album “The Owl” (completely spot on, trash album) was what led me to finding this website in the first place.
Cool Lester Smooth
October 22, 2021 @ 4:10 pm
Emily Scott Robinson’s new album just dropped!
October 22, 2021 @ 6:15 pm
I’m not seeing it on Spotify, and if it dropped somewhere, it was a mistake. It’s not supposed to be out until next week.
Cool Lester Smooth
October 23, 2021 @ 7:45 am
Ah, I’m a backer, so I got an early copy, haha.
October 19, 2021 @ 5:25 pm
Listened to a couple of his songs and was hoping for a genuine Country and Western singer but with titles like “All My Exes Changed Their Sexes” “We Gotta Be Less White” “The Offended Song” and “Let’s Build A Wall Around CALIFORNIA” not sure if I was listening to the new Cledus T. Judd or the newToby Keith.
October 19, 2021 @ 9:06 am
I think success went to his head. Remember he started selling weird stuff at his concerts (bbq sauce, knives, etc. etc.) and started talking about branding and product?
His family fell apart and I think his authenticity did as well.
I use to enjoy ZBB. He does have some really excellent songs. Although they all tended to be the first couple albums.
I don’t know what he could do for me to change my opinion that he is just a tool.
October 21, 2021 @ 7:36 pm
That being said, Trigger I think your review is right on. It’s Not a bad album. To me , it has nothing I would say ranks with their best songs.
October 19, 2021 @ 9:13 am
Near the outset of “The Comeback” a moody riff meanders across a mass of sandpaper-textured riffing and a clopping beat, like a lone cowboy crossing a blasted desert plain — or like a doomed astronaut whose craft drifts ever deeper into a hostile void. The lonely feeling of the album intensifies, but as the guitars increasingly sear the senses with its fever, feelings of wonder, terror, and desperation also emerge, even as a compelling rhythmic sequence moves ever south toward hades. Hail the Morningstar; the Comeback is complete.
October 19, 2021 @ 9:21 am
To me anymore, minus the EDM garbage, most Zac Brown songs just sound like the same. Granted there’s some stellar songs he has, Colder Weather and his cover of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down being cream of the crop for me, but overall it’s just a shoulder shrug and “ok”
October 19, 2021 @ 9:28 am
I never knew Sgt. Slaughter had so many tattoos.
October 19, 2021 @ 10:19 am
Those nasty tattoos might impress my sister, but they don’t do a thing for me. What a terrible cover image. I doubt the music on the album is much better. I’ve never really been terribly impressed by their songs, with rare exceptions.
October 19, 2021 @ 6:13 pm
I couldn’t care less about this story unless someone can tell me what he was thinking with that cover.
He looks like he might just bite your feet.
October 19, 2021 @ 8:59 pm
Rumor has it that’s exactly why he was in a hotel room with hookers. Ol’ toe muncher Brown.
October 19, 2021 @ 10:26 am
Wow, Marcus King is phenomenal!
October 20, 2021 @ 3:35 am
Zac Brown said he wanted to take the cover photo in that river because it’s a river he grew up near, symboling going back to his roots.
October 19, 2021 @ 10:40 am
Clarence parents have a real nice marriage!
October 19, 2021 @ 10:41 am
North Woods Country
October 20, 2021 @ 5:42 am
“Colder Weather” came from this group. I don’t like the experiments, but that song exists. I don’t need anything else from them. I like some other songs, but that one is transcendent.
North Woods Country
October 20, 2021 @ 5:43 am
This was not supposed to be a reply, but a standalone. Sorry for the confusion!
October 19, 2021 @ 10:50 am
How did this junk get the same rating as albums like Wildcard haha
October 19, 2021 @ 11:42 am
Wildcard has some better songs, but it also has some worse songs. This album is never great, but its never bad, and I think a lot of folks are being too harsh on it, including some folks who haven’t even listened to it, and are simply going off Zac’s last album, and strangely, his tattoos.
October 19, 2021 @ 11:45 am
It’s weird that mainstream country artists never seem to want to experiment or push boundaries by releasing less commercially ready *country* music.
Like why is the risky experiments never “do something like the stuff I grew up listening to?”
Like zac brown seems to have good taste. Why not do an album that doesn’t sound like a radio ab because it’s more country than that?
October 20, 2021 @ 2:47 am
Alan Jackson’s eighth album, “Under the Influence” comes to mind… but that WAS back in 1999… covers of songs he grew up listening to… “Pop A Top”, Hank, Jr’s “The Blues Man”, Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” “Kiss and Angel Good Morning”…
But I do get your point… I mean, Garth Brooks covering Billy Joel is not quite the same thing, is it…
October 19, 2021 @ 12:15 pm
Yeah, the album doesn’t suck.
It’s maybe not quite as rootsy as their early stuff, but their rootsiness always struck me as being a bit of a put on. That doesn’t mean they were not a talented, enjoyable group.
I’ll probably give it a couple more spins, anyways.
October 19, 2021 @ 1:01 pm
This album is fine (I think Trigger said it best when nothing is great, but nothing is bad) with “Fun Having Fun,” “Stubborn Pride,” and “Out in the Middle” being the only things that can even touch peak-Zac Brown Band material.
However, the best Zac Brown Band album of 2021 has already been released for several months… the solo album “Lonesome High” released by band member John Driskell Hopkins. There are a lot of top notch songs in this album (Good Morning Believers and Hate To See Good Whiskey Go to Waste are SUPERB) and it made me long for the ZBB of 2010 again. Check it out if you haven’t heard it yet, you won’t regret it.
October 19, 2021 @ 1:07 pm
I was thinking about them the other day.
I was wondering who threw away the best career, Zac Brown or Mumford and Sons?
October 19, 2021 @ 2:30 pm
Stubborn Pride is great. All the best songs were released weeks ago though. Now the albums out and its like wtf the reat of these are pretty forgetable.
October 19, 2021 @ 3:27 pm
Yet another album where so many pre-release singles result in a deflated feeling for many fans once the album arrives. I just don’t understand this approach.
October 23, 2021 @ 9:42 am
To generate as many streams as possible. That’s why the drip drip drip of 4-6 singles precedes an album. To keep it in your mind that the album will drop in the near future, but keep listening to these while you’re waiting. Then it comes out and you’re hyped up for it, so you stream it ASAP. They then get all the streams of the singles, then all the album ones as well.
October 19, 2021 @ 3:23 pm
Peak ZBB was legitimately good and probably the best popular act on the radio at the time. Their album cuts were magnificent (Natural Disaster, Day That I Die, etc). That is why their derailment into crazyville starting with Jekyll + Hyde was distressing.
Hopefully, this album recaptures some of their greatness.
Zac sold out hard. Maybe he learned his lesson.
October 19, 2021 @ 4:53 pm
Listened to this the day it came out. Had high hopes. It’s a really boring listen imo. The first three albums were top notch. I think they topped out with Uncaged and will never regain that level. 3 great albums is better than most will ever do.
October 19, 2021 @ 4:54 pm
Hootie & The Blowfish. Pass.
October 19, 2021 @ 5:53 pm
Are we sure that the cover photo of The Comeback is of Zac Brown, and not of Nathaniel Rateliff?
October 19, 2021 @ 6:12 pm
I legitimately don’t get the hostility people have towards Brown. He doesn’t owe me consistency. The Owl wasn’t my taste so I didn’t buy it. This is a good album. A very good album actually.
One notch down from The Foundation, but a whole beltful higher than most things on country radio.
October 19, 2021 @ 6:51 pm
I don’t believe him. I kinda thought of Zac Brown Band as the modern day equivalent of the Dixie Chicks. Solid mainstream music, with good musicianship, great vocals, and good songs. In fact I consider them the most IMPORTANT “mainstream” act since the Dixie Chicks. Could have gone down as one of the best ever. But he couldn’t get out of his own way. Narcissism and hubris got him here.
I was at a concert where they performed the Gucci bag song out of nowhere. It was really weird.
I know your take on Midland. I get it. How “authentic” are they really? But I’ll die on a hill for Drinkin’ Problem. And how “authentic,” really is someone in a get-up like Dwight Yoakam? One of my faves and one of the best to ever do it?
I think this is different. This isn’t about authenticity. This is about sincerity. I wonder if Dave Grohl went to his head? You see Dave Grohl making a country album, Zac?
October 19, 2021 @ 6:59 pm
Fuck Zac brown. Chicken fried hack
October 19, 2021 @ 7:39 pm
The awkward moment when a journalist stumbles upon Zac Brown mid-Aqua Lube…
October 19, 2021 @ 11:13 pm
So with all the Kacey Musgrave stories – and the Rascal Flatts stories, now this – safe to say that Saving Country Music has gone full-blown pop-country. RIP Saving Country Music
October 20, 2021 @ 5:07 am
Same comment I’ve seen dozens of times here over the years.
Still the same amount of ridiculous.
You people are like radio country “songwriters”.
October 20, 2021 @ 6:23 am
Just in the last couple of days I have been led to great albums from Noel McKay, The Royal Hounds, and Joshua Ray Walker, all through this site. Full-blown country-pop? Hardly…
October 20, 2021 @ 7:46 am
Once again, if you think Saving Country Music has gone “full blown pop country,” that says way more about your browsing habits than it does Saving Country Music. It is a statistical impossibility that this site has gone “full blown pop country.”
Also, it’s a shame that folks can’t read beyond headlines. The stories on Kacey Musgraves are about how she was rightfully moved from country to the pop category at the Grammy Awards. It seems that would be an important topic to the effort to push back against pop’s incursion into country. Unfortunately though, as thousands of activated activists get behind the false narrative of how Kacey Musgraves is being excluded from country solely due to systemic sexism, here I post some facts disproving that narrative, and get attacked by my own readers for supporting pop music. And this is why we continue to lose, and they continue to win.
October 20, 2021 @ 6:27 am
Not all the ZBB albums have been the same and if they were he would be criticised. Some have been markedly different and not country but then ZBB was not for me ever really truly country. So I wonder how can he be criticised if his album is not country?! Whatever, this is more the ZBB, I like. Good catchy songs with a great band. Good music whether it be country or not, this is more country than his last one. A return to form.
October 20, 2021 @ 8:20 am
Trigger – I Seek Confirmation of Your Viewpoint:
This comment is not pro/against Zac Brown. I am trying to understand your viewpoint.
Country music in my favourite genre of music by far – in excess of 95 % of CDs I buy (yes – I still buy CDs) are in the country format. I have now been listening to country music for 3 decades – the 90s being my loved decade by a long margin.
Yet my favourite band is Dire Straits. I also am a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Tom Petty, Chris Rea, Police, Jackson Browne, ZZ Top to name a few.
I also play the guitar (badly) and try to write songs (badly) – it is my hobby and I enjoy it very much. The majority of the songs I write are in the country genre. But I also like rock music and occasionally I try to write rock songs. Also as a musician from time to time I like to play in a different style than country – so I enjoy trying to play rock guitar.
Now is your position that if by some miracle I made a huge breakthrough and became one of the leading country music artists, then I am never allowed to make an album which is outside the country genre? So if I put out 4 or 5 successful fully country albums (and I mean proper country – not this mainstream rubbish) then I am not allowed to make a rock album?
Is my understanding correct? Can you please clarify your position.
I can tell you from the musician side that many musicians like playing music across lots of different genres and from time to time would very much like to play outside of what is considered their regular format.
For example it would not surprise me at all if Vince Gill or Brad Paisley put out a non-country album – they are both great guitarists and I can see at some point they may want to scratch the itch to play rock/blues/jazz music. It makes total sense to me. And I see no reason why they should not be allowed to do so.
October 20, 2021 @ 8:40 am
“Now is your position that if by some miracle I made a huge breakthrough and became one of the leading country music artists, then I am never allowed to make an album which is outside the country genre?”
Absolutely positively not. And frankly, I have not idea how or why you would come to this conclusion. I started this website as a Hank3 fan blog. Hank3 went out and made all kinds of crazy records outside of country. Cody Jinks is about to release a metal record. When it comes to Zac Brown, Kacey Musgraves, or whomever, I support their creative right to make whatever kind of music they want. That doesn’t mean I have to like it, or I have to call it country when it isn’t. But I very much support artist’s right to follow their creative muse wherever it takes them.
I hope this clarifies my position.
October 20, 2021 @ 1:11 pm
Since the last time ZBB put a good record out, we’ve had the ascendency of (among others) Sturgill, Cody, and Tyler… leading the pack of a robust and durable independent country scene.
I dunno, listening to this record with all that’s happened in country in the last 9 years makes it seem so manufactured and hokey. ZBB is gone. It’s music-by-numbers at this point.
October 21, 2021 @ 12:59 pm
I’ll be the first to agree that The Owl was beyond bad, and I can understand people’s frustration with Zac’s manic approach to music the last several years. But as someone who has seen them live several times and has enjoyed (most) of their music, I’m personally thrilled with this album. They’re so good live, and I can’t wait to see them again. While its pretty clear that Zac must’ve had some type of mid life crisis the last couple years, I personally don’t need to punish anybody for bad life choices or past missteps in their career. If I enjoy their music, I enjoy their music, period. Also I think to really “get” the magic of ZBB, you have to play at least one instrument. A lot of the reason I love them so much is because their musicianship really is incredible. It’s phenomenal what an 8 piece band is able to do. Changing keys/rhythms seamlessly, on a dime – that’s tough. And the bigger the band, the tougher it is. If you don’t play an instrument, that whole concept might not even occur to you. That being said, music is subjective. If you don’t like it, I respect your personal taste/opinion. But personally this album has been on repeat for me since it launched. Is this a contrived “I have to give people what they want to keep them off my back and save my career”, or a genuine “returning to their roots”? Only time will tell. Either way, I’m enjoying listening to it. And to me, that’s what music is all about in the first place.
October 21, 2021 @ 8:44 pm
I stuck my toe in the pool to listen to the two videos posted here. Not bad at all and a pretty good effort. Would hope he would stick with this. However he has a lot of makeup homework to do to make up for straying from what he proclaimed to be: that would include minimum 5 more CDs recorded with real musicians, never setting foot near drum machine, Fairlight, DX7 or auto tuner ever again, avoiding anyone with “DJ” in their name and notably, get rid of the Willismsburg Hipster beard and flat brimmed howdy dowdy hat. (Also please avoid “coffee houses”, glossy “men’s magazines”, “premium automobiles” or pick up trucks too expensive to get dirty.) 🤔🤣😁👍
October 21, 2021 @ 11:51 pm
You misspelled “ Lesane Parish Crooks” as Clarence.
October 24, 2021 @ 11:07 am
Sorry, Zachary. When you sell your soul to the devil, you can’t ask for it back.
Saul V. Ambulando
October 25, 2021 @ 1:09 pm
” and the rather shallow “Chicken Fried,” ”
You trying to tell me this isn’t the only reason anyone likes ZBB? This is the only song of theirs I’ve ever downloaded.
October 28, 2021 @ 11:30 am
Dont get the hype with Lambert. Her opening week sales for her album were horrible! 🤔
December 7, 2021 @ 11:25 am
Used to live ZBB covers especially when I used to see him at Dixie Tavern and Sidelines way back. Last Time I saw them perform was on The Rock Boat in 2009 and I had already felt that they no longer “moved” me with there performances. When he “rebuilt” the band back in 2006 and ditched Marcus on drums, I sort of lost my interest in the band, still I would never dis him just because I don’t like whatever he releases. Had some great times doing Jaeger shots with Marcus, Jimmy, John and Zac between sets, though.
December 13, 2021 @ 8:15 am
ZBB peaked with the Dave Grohl Sessions record. That record was a fascinating blend of the country roots and musicianship of the band, along with the desire to experiment and push the boundaries with a new sound. Ever since then, it seems they have lost their roots, but on the past couple albums, it seems they lost their guts.