Zac Brown doesn’t want you to pigeonhole him as a country artist.
The 3-time Grammy Award winning leader of the Atlanta-based septet implored people to listen to the songs on this album “a bunch of times to really catch all the different nuances of what’s happening,” and a sizeable chunk of Jekyll + Hyde consists of sounds you wouldn’t necessarily expect on a country album.
It begins with airy electronic noises on ‘Beautiful Drug’, and by the chorus a percussive acoustic guitar and four-on-the-floor-drumbeat have been added to the mix.
It’s a sound a lot more pop-based than the Zac Brown Band’s previous releases, and an approach they repeat on following track ‘Loving You Easy’ and first single ‘Homegrown’.
The surprises continue when the band team up with piano songstress Sara Bareilles and Soundgarden-frontman Chris Cornell for consecutive duets ‘Mango Tree’ and ‘Heavy is the head’. The former is a big band track, the latter heaves with the distorted grunge riffs of Cornell’s body of work.
Again, not what you’d expect on a country album. And while Zac sounds good singing in different styles you’re left wondering what the collaborations would have sounded like if the band mixed their sound with the guest artists’, rather than played in their style like a backing band.
Jekyll + Hyde not a complete departure from the band’s sound, mind you. The layered vocal harmonies that were a hallmark of their earlier albums return for ‘Remedy’ and ‘Bittersweet’. The fiddle and banjo interludes on each track driving home the reflective, solemn mood in the lyrics.
Meanwhile the ukulele intro to breezy reggae ditty ‘Castaway’ will likely be an instant hit with people who play the little guitars.
Ultimately, it seems like the Zac Brown Band viewed Jekyll + Hyde as their chance to prove they could do much more than just country. Perhaps the variance of sound gave the album its title, and the group certainly shows the breadth of its talents and influences over the 16 tracks.
Power to them if they refuse to write music solely to please their fans, but it does mean the album will be received differently by different listeners.
If you’re just starting to discover the band, you’ll love it. If you’re a fan for life, you might need to skip some tracks – or “listen a bunch of times” like Zac suggested – to find the sound you know and love.