Track Review

The story of the Zac Brown Band is one of overnight success … that took nearly a decade to achieve.

Headed by Georgia native Zac Brown, the band is rounded out by Coy Bowles, Clay Cook, Jimmy De Martini, Chris Fryar and John Driskell Hopkins. It was formed in the early 2000s. The song "Chicken Fried" was recorded in 2003 and the album Far From Einstyne was released in '04. Four years, two albums and middling success later, Zac Brown Band signed with Atlantic Records and released The Foundation. The first single? "Chicken Fried."

The song proved a runaway success, hitting No. 1 on Billboard's country charts and cementing the band's reputation as a "new" country act to be reckoned with. It also paved the way for a Best New Artist award at the 2010 Grammys.

The latest hit from the platinum-selling Foundation, "Highway 20 Ride," also topped the country chart. It's a beautiful, sad ballad—a love song not to, or about, the singer's main squeeze, but rather his son.

In it, we learn that the singer, a long-haul trucker, has split from the young boy's mother: "Your mom and me couldn't get along," he sings, adding later that "there was no other way to work it out." But even though that union is a lost cause, Dad hopes his relationship with his son isn't. He worries about how his boy will deal with the split in the years to come and tries to reassure him that he still cares: "A part of you might hate me/But son, please don't mistake me/For a man that didn't care at all."

In the end, the trucker sings that being with his boy was "The pleasure of my life/And I cherished every time/And my whole world/It begins and ends with you."

If lyrics like those aren't enough to give listeners' heartstrings a powerful tug, the video adds even more layers of emotional resonance. As it begins, we see the father reading a letter from his ex and hear her voice saying, "These are the times he really needs a father around." The remainder of the footage shows the little boy grow into a young man as Dad watches from afar and struggles to deal with the distance that separates them.

Though wrapped in a bittersweet package tinged with loss, "Highway 20 Ride" expresses the tender feelings many a father has for his children—and the sort that too often go unspoken. It also illustrates the importance of fathers being present and the damage done to children when parents choose to go their separate ways.

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Hit No. 1 on Billboard's country chart.

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November 23, 2009

On Video

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Paul Asay