Fresh off its 2010 Grammy win for Best New Artist, Zac Brown Band has proven that it can live up to that title with the release of its fourth album, You Get What You Give. A few critics — and just a few — have written off the album as a clichéd country jumble of feel-good songs about cold beer, simplicity and escaping the problems of everyday life in favor of hedonism. Clearly those few did not give the album the listen it deserves.
You Get What You Give is an album full of what are indeed upbeat, breezy and laid-back songs, but there are a handful of songs that go a level deeper as well. Although Zac Brown uses plain language, the songs are straightforward, not unrefined.
It’s a solid listen; the songs are enjoyable, the instrumentals are excellent and the musical palette is a diverse one full of influence from other genres, ultimately making for an album that steps out of the contemporary country box without losing its roots.
Many of the songs like “No Hurry,” “Settle Me Down” and the opening number “Let It Go,” which starts off with a surf-rock vibe, are buoyant and cheerful. “Knee Deep” offers escapism and daydreams of paradise with lyrics like “Gonna put the world away for a minute / pretend I don’t live in it / sunshine gonna wash my blues away.”
Keeping with the album’s general trend of jubilance, “Whiskey’s Gone” kicks it up a notch. In fact, it’s downright peppy. Full of energy and just shy of being crude, it’s nothing but pure fun. Another plus is that it sounds the most country out of all the songs.
The album occasionally deviates from its generally upbeat vibe with more mellow songs like “Cold Hearted” and the fantastic ballad “Colder Weather,” which tells the story of a rambling man torn between the road and the one he loves.
“Quiet Your Mind,” however, is the one slow song that seems to stick out — and not in a good way. Although it’s not a bad song per se, it sounds like what a Pearl Jam tribute band would come up with after watching Across the Universe three times in a row and then deciding that it wanted to try its hand at a country song. It just doesn’t fit.
Despite the fact that “Quiet Your Mind” is conspicuous in an out-of-place way, for the most part the album is consistent; it doesn’t feel disjointed and the songs that gently mix genres happen to work. The song “Keep Me In Mind” has obvious R&B and soul influences that come in during the bridge and compliment the “boy wants girl, but girl is taken” romantic theme of the song.
“Colder Weather,” “As She’s Walking Away” and “Martin” are the songs that give the album its backbone. “As She’s Walking Away” is an all-around solid song with a catchy melody (and some sappy lyrics to go with it).
But the most compelling song on the album is definitely the slow number “Martin,” which Zac Brown wrote about his guitar and the part that music has played in his life. The concept of “you get what you give” is clearest in this song as Brown claims that it’s up to the players whether or not the music they make is real or just noise.
The album ends on a high note with the honky-tonk number “Make This Day,” which is nice, considering that artists often toss a weaker song into the last slot. But listeners shouldn’t be fooled; although the last song is simple and fun, the album has a respectable amount of substance.
Zac Brown Band has proven that it is more than just a country band. There’s a little something for all types of country and non-country listeners on You Get What You Give. It also contains superbly executed instrumentals that deserve separate recognition, whether it’s the steel guitar, mandolin, fiddle or bass guitar.
It’s clear that the band put a lot of effort and enjoyment into making this album, and if you really get what you give, Zac Brown Band only has more success coming their way.