Song Review: Zac Brown Band, “My Old Man”

Are you tired of Zac Brown’s dalliances with electronic music? Do you break out in hives whenever “Beautiful Drug” comes on the radio? Do you wish Brown and his band would get back to playing “real” country music, like they did when they first hit Nashville? If you answered yes to any of these questions, brace yourself, because the band has a new single you might be interested in.

Brown’s reputation took a huge hit when he called out Bro-Country as being shallow and repetitive…and then promptly jumped on the Metropolitan trend with their album Jekyll + Hyde, causing many fans and critics to accuse Brown and Co. of hypocrisy. The album earned ZBB three No. 1s on the country charts and another on the rock charts, but the damage done to the band’s image seemed to negate the album’s success. It only takes one song to change peoples’ minds, however, and with “My Old Man,” the leadoff single for ZBB’s upcoming album, the group seems intent on proving that their classic country credentials are still intact.

Calling the song’s production “old-school” doesn’t even begin to describe the instrumentation here. For example, you can forget the debate over real vs. synthetic drums; this song doesn’t appear to have any percussion at all. In fact, there are only three instruments here that you’ll notice: The acoustic guitar that drives the melody, a fiddle that gets added about halfway through, and a muted piano that jumps in late in the game. (I’m sure there’s a bass in there somewhere, but it’s so low in the mix you don’t hear it.) The song quickly establishes a slower tempo and sets a reverential-yet-melancholic tone, perfectly matches the song’s theme (more on that later).

The song’s vocal tracks are similarly stripped down: Brown covers most of the duties himself without any hint of added effects, and the rest of the crew jumps in to add some tight harmonies on the choruses. Brown avoids performing any vocal gymnastics here, and sticks to a solid, straightforward delivery that gets the message across, much as he did with the band’s early material. While his prior comments may have ruined his credibility in the eyes of some, he comes across as earnest and believable here.

The song itself is a tribute to the singer’s father (who is apparently deceased), declaring Brown’s appreciation for his father’s teachings and hopes that he can be the same kind of role model and teacher to his own son. While this sort of fatherly tribute has been done before (Alan Jackson’s “Drive,” George Strait’s “Love Without End, Amen,” and Conway Twitty’s “That’s My Job” come to mind), it’s been a loooong time since anyone’s covered this ground (or done anything this substantive at all, for that matter), which will help it stand out on the radio. While the lyrics are a bit broad and generic, this will likely help it connect with a wide audience. Basically, if you’ve got a father, you’re going to feel this one, and the Zac Brown Band wisely keeps things simple to avoid getting in the way of the message.

Overall, “My Old Man” is a nice, touching song that represents a return to form for the Zac Brown Band, a return many of their fans have been eagerly anticipating. Beyond that, however, it’s a sign that substance is back in style on country radio, which bodes well for the genre’s future.

Well played, ZBB. Well played.

Rating: 7/10. This one was worth the wait.