Zac Brown knows about keeping things in the family.
On his band’s third major-label studio album, “Uncaged,” Brown enlists the songwriting talents of a good chunk of the Southern Ground roster.
Sonia Leigh, Nic Cowan and Levi Lowrey join usual partner Wyatt Durrette throughout the album, as does Jason Mraz, who gives an assist on the opening “Jump Right In,” a sprightly number that recalls ‘70s-era Paul Simon with its percussive background (courtesy of new member Daniel de los Reyes) and tight harmonies.
While the songs vary stylistically, from the foot-stomping, old-school bluegrass of “The Wind” to the prog-rock organ swirls that coat the title track to the goofy reggae that powers the novelty “Island Song,” Atlanta’s ZBB sounds polished and cohesive throughout.
Brown’s voice isn’t overly distinctive, but it’s capable of rich emotion on ballads such as “Goodbye in Her Eyes,” where you can hear the wounded tone behind the line, “she’d found what she was looking for and I knew it wasn’t me.”
One of the many highlights on the CD is “Overnight,” which flows along on a creamy groove – and features Brown in full James Taylor mode – and spotlights the seductive brass of Trombone Shorty.
Local listeners will also appreciate the tender tribute to Atlanta drummer Lance Tilton, who died in a car crash in 2010 returning from a gig in Tennessee. The band has been performing “Lance’s Song” live, but the sweet ballad now has an official home, Brown’s words ever affecting: “When he closed his eyes, fell into a dream that never dies. And when the thunder comes, you can hear his kick drum in the sky, feel the rain fall from our eyes.”
There is enough straight-up country-folk on “Uncaged” to keep ZBB comfortably ensconced in the country category at awards shows and (the few remaining) record store shelves. But the band ably demonstrates a desire, backed up by impressive ability, to reveal themselves over many different beats.
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By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene