If there’s one mainstream country artist you can’t give anything but the utmost credit for digging a little deeper than the rosters of major labels or Music Row’s cubicle farms when looking for songs or artists to help, it would be Zac Brown and the Zac Brown Band. From their championing of Blackberry Smoke on the (now defunct) Southern Ground label, to taking Sturgill Simpson out on tour, to now shining a spotlight in a worthy songwriter.
It was only a matter of time before mainstream artists started plucking songs from the heralded discographies of thriving independent artists like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. We know these are the artists many of the mainstream acts are listening to. Then again Zac Brown has always been sort of his own animal when it comes to the establishment. Willing to admit he’s more Southern rock than country, covering a song from former Drive By Trucker Jason Isbell shouldn’t really surprise anyone.
Zac Brown first showed major interest in the song when he performed it on ESPN’s College Gameday program right before the first official college football National Championship game. Then an earlier video of Brown performing the song acoustically from November of 2014 was discovered. Making this opportunity even more exciting for Isbell, by Zac Brown performing the song on such a major stage as the college football National Championship, it signals at least the thought of featuring the song prominently from the album, potentially as a single. This is where the serious exposure (and money) for Jason Isbell would come into play.
“Dress Blues” is from Isbell’s very first solo album Sirens of the Ditch released in 2007 after he’d left the Drive-By Truckers. It makes reference to the formal dress of Marines that unfortunately so many service members are buried in after returning to home from war. Written about Cpl. Matthew D. Conley, unlike many of these soldier songs, which sometimes cross certain lines of decency in an attempt to tug at heart strings and jerk tears with sappy and even cheesy lines that simplify the issues surrounding loss and war, “Dress Blues” shows off Isbell’s prowess as the world-class and well-decorated songwriter.
Zac Brown Band signaled a desire to step out of the mainstream mold with their last album, and EP with Dave Grohl called The Grohl Sessions. Though some love to point to the band’s first single “Chicken Fried” as an example of why Zac Brown shouldn’t be given credit for much of anything, that was some seven years ago now, and before the Bro-Country / laundry list style of writing took its menacing grip on country radio.
Just announced, Zac Brown Band’s new album Jeckyll + Hyde is scheduled to be released on April 28th in a strange partnership forged between Southern Ground, clothier Varvatos, and Big Machine Records. Other collaborations on the album include Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell singing with Zac on a song called “Heavy in the Head,” and a Sara Bareilles duet on “Mango Tree.”
This could be a big album for Zac Brown since it’s been nearly three years since a full-length release from the band. And it could be big for Jason Isbell too. Expect to see more of these type of opportunities for independent songwriters as mainstream country hopes to sluff off the unsavory burden of Bro-Country.
If you pre-order the album on iTunes, you can get “Dress Blues” and two other songs immediately.
Jekyll + Hyde Track List:
2. “Loving You Easy”
5. “Mango Tree” (feat. Sara Bareilles)
6. “Heavy Is the Head” (feat. Chris Cornell)
9. “Tomorrow Never Comes”
10. “One Day”
11. “Dress Blues”
12. “Young and Wild”
14. “I’ll Be Your Man” (Song for a Daughter)
16. “Tomorrow Never Comes” (Acoustic Version)