When it comes to music, being authentic has generally been considered a good thing. These days, though, it seems as if artists across the musical spectrum have decided that just being genuine isn’t enough. More and more, we hear musicians appropriating sounds and rhythms and instruments from genres not their own. Rappers rock. Rockers rap. Lines between pop and R&B and dance music are blurring in an attempt to appeal to as broad an audience as possible.
And if you think country music is immune to such trends, well, then you’re not a country purist. Because country purists have been complaining for a couple of decades now about the incursion of rock guitars and riffs into their beloved music.
Which brings us to Uncaged, the third album from Zac Brown Band. There’s plenty of what you’d expect here, which is to say multi-part vocal harmonies reminiscent of Alabama and scorching chicken pickin’ on the guitar. But there’s quite a bit here you might not expect too. Strains reminiscent of Jimmy Buffet, Jack Johnson and Bob Marley intertwine. We hear grinding guitars one minute and something akin to ’70s R&B the next, not to mention jam-band tunes that wouldn’t feel out of place on albums from Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler or even Lynyrd Skynyrd.
As for Uncaged’s content, well, it covers a lot of ground too.
Album opener “Jump Right In” celebrates the goodness of the place “where the music meets the ocean.” The title track swims in similarly upbeat streams as it praises the virtues of freedom (“Feel the wind through the open plains/Freedom is a gift, get living/ … You got to get uncaged”), courage (“Every day, find a way to face my fears”) and patriotism (“Gonna drink from a mountain spring/Defend the land of the great wide open”).
On “Goodbye in Her Eyes,” a man struggles to come to grips with how his failings doomed a romance (“Prince Charming I wasn’t”). “Sweet Annie” and “Last But Not Least” try to salvage what’s left of damaged relationships before things reach the point of no return. On the former, Brown sings, “Sweet Annie/I know I promised you a life.” He also says that he’d like to rewind the clock and trade drinkin’ for prayin’ (“Turn around, put that bottle down and pray it’s not too late”) as he begs her to take him back (“Don’t give up on me”). On the latter, Brown plays the part of a workaholic who admits he’s too often put the most important people in his life last (“You’ve been last, but not least/Everyone I love the most/Has to take what’s left of me/ … They deserve the best of me”).
“Day That I Die” finds a songwriter hoping he goes out strumming: “I hope they find me in my home with my guitar in my hands.” The song also notes how he realizes the fleeting nature of time and how little of it we really have. “Lance’s Song” pays poignant tribute to a drummer who’s died and tips the hat toward the idea of an afterlife reunion (“We’re all here waiting for our silver invitation/To the big band in the sky”). That track also affirms, “You live on love/You try to do what’s right.”
“Island Song” channels the aforementioned Jimmy Buffet as Brown instructs, “Grab a drink beside me.” Among the various drinks suggested: beer, rum and Bacardi. We also hear an allusion to adding marijuana to the beach party (“And I’m gonna get faded at the tiki bar tonight/Then ima roll one up/Like my name is Bob/Yeah, I’m gonna party like I’m a Jamaican”).
“Overnight” finds Brown sounding like a lusty rapper: “Ain’t no time for talking/Show me what you got/We’re gonna get this bed rocking/And it ain’t gonna stop/Roll your body like you do/Don’t be afraid to move it/You got everything I like/Why don’t you get right to it/Come on, let yourself go crazy.” Later in the tune he says, “I’m your judge and jury/So you have to do the time/ … I’m gonna search your body over/I gotta make sure/You ain’t hidin’ nothin’ nowhere.” As if that kind of leering objectification wasn’t already too much, a verse late in the song adds, “Tell me how you want it/Oh wait, you better show me.” On “Sweet Annie,” we hear, “Turn out the lights/These hands long to hold you/Fall all over you/All over again.”
“Natural Disaster” tells of a pastor’s prodigal daughter who throws caution to the wind as she tears through one unsuspecting suitor after another: “She was a preacher’s daughter/Never did what her daddy taught her/And the rebel in her soul/Brought her to me/ … And her heart ran cold/But her love runs deep/She’s fire on the mountain/Wrecking everyone she meets.” The song also includes one use of “d‑‑n.”
One moment we’re inspired to embrace freedom and courage. The next we’re invited to embrace a tall cold one or a night of unbridled carnality. There are more of the former moments than the latter. Still, there’s some weedin’ that should have been done before this diverse musical garden was sold off in small plots.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.