Song Review: Zac Brown Band, “Roots”

It seems that the Zac Brown “Please Forgive Us” tour is still playing…but is it too little, too late?

After suffering a major fan backlash for its genre-bending album Jekyll + Hyde, ZBB promised a return to their roots on their follow-up disc Welcome Home. Country radio, however, was surprisingly lukewarm and unwelcome to the band, as the leadoff single “My Old Man” (despite being one of my favorite singles of 2017 thus far) only made it to #14 on the airplay charts before stalling out. Nevertheless, the band doubled down on their old-school approach with the album’s second single (appropriately titled “Roots”), and while the effort is worth applauding, I find the song to be a bit weaker than its predecessor, which makes me question its radio viability.

Production, the Zac Brown band sticks to the formula that made them great in the first place, with a fiddle, acoustic guitar, and piano featured prominently from the beginning, and an electric guitar and banjo thrown in later for flavor. (The (real) drums here deserve some special recognition, giving the song much more drive than some of ZBB’s recent offerings.) However, I have two major issues with the mix:

  • The song squanders its energy-building potential by pulling its punches on the chorus. There are some great electric guitar swells that lead up to the first chorus, making the listener anticipate a big sonic explosion, and then…nothing. The electric guitar pulls out abruptly, and the chorus chugs along with the same slightly-restrained tone of the verses. Subsequent choruses release a bit more energy thanks to the inclusion of the drums, but those transitions are nowhere near the visceral moment they should be, which is really disappointing.
  • The song’s reliance on minor chords gives the song a more melancholic feel than it should, and instead of establishing the upbeat, chase-your-dreams vibe the song wants, it feels like a last-gasp, career-winding down single. It’s probably great for closing a live show, but as a single it makes the listener how much the Zac Brown Band has left in the tank.

To his credit, Zac Brown gives a decent vocal performance on “Roots,” exhibiting more than enough charisma and earnestness to sell the song and make it believable. He maintains his tone well in both his lower and upper ranges (which is no surprise to anyone who’s heard “Sunday Finest”), and his flow is steady without feeling too methodical or plodding. While I’m a little unsure about the future about the Zac Brown Band, Brown himself probably has a bright future as a solo artist should he choose to go that route.

The writing here tells the tale of an up-and-coming musician’s rise from guitar-picking dreamer to arena-packing superstar. While there are some interesting lines here (my favorite is the opener “My first best friend was a six string”) and there’s nothing here that’s going to offend anyone’s sensibilities, there’s not a lot here that’s particular unique or memorable. (I actually prefer the Eli Young Band’s take on this topic with “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” and neither that song nor “Roots” can touch Alan Jackson’s “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.”) The song lacks the easy relatability or sheer emotional power of “My Old Man,” and thus doesn’t leave nearly the impact on the listener.

Overall, “Roots” is an okay song, but not a particularly interesting one, and not what I would call one of the stronger offerings in the Zac Brown Band’s discography. While the ZBB is certainly sticking to its promise to deliver more “Roots”-y music, I’m doubtful it’ll be enough to reestablish their radio relevance.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few listens, but probably not much more.

One thought on “Song Review: Zac Brown Band, “Roots”

  1. Glad you mentioned Eli Young Band’s song on this topic. Not only is the subject the same, the chords and even substantial parts of the melody are identical.

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