Since releasing The Foundation in 2008, the Zac Brown Band have enjoyed consistent success, hit songs, and a robust catalog. Two years after the experimental Jekyll + Hyde, the band returns with Welcome Home, their fifth studio album and first for Elektra Records. It’s a nice set of tracks, stylistically reaching back to their debut and strategically away from the experimentation of its predecessor. The singles and early released tracks from Welcome Home, such as “My Old Man”, “Family Table”, and “Roots”, speak to the impact of life’s adventures on your past and present, and the relevance of the journeys away from your “roots”.
Overall, Welcome Home is enjoyable and takes you into Zac Brown’s experiences with evocative lyrics and strong music that precisely compose the presence of home. The return to the band’s debut style seemingly rejects the experimentation of recent albums, EPs, and collaborations by Zac Brown, but there is a light playful attitude that emerges and enhances the depth of connections and relationships built, recovered, and cherished across Welcome Home.
Opening with “Roots”, Zac Brown immediately goes back to The Foundation stylistically and further back in his lyrics. Championing an earlier sound and promoting this new album as a return to that success is unfair in its simplicity for this record. Songs like “Roots”, and its themes of home and where you come from continue through “Long Haul” and “Family Table”, but never depict a longing to return there specifically, but are more about finding a comfortable place and making that the core of your success. That’s a better approach to defining Welcome Home and its connection to The Foundation. Sonically and stylistically, the two albums are similar, but the method of celebrating “roots” and belonging are presented far differently.
The album has one misstep on “Start Over”, which follows the first single “My Old Man”. Where the single talks about Brown’s memories of his father at home and the work he did for his family, “Start Over” dives into party atmosphere with Spanish-style orchestral tones, voices pulled from a celebration, against a backdrop of slowing down and retracing your steps. These songs are in no way complementary and the weakness of “Start Over” and its party atmosphere shines after the emotional complexity and longing sung by Brown on “My Old Man”. Both may be about relationships, but the tone and delivery of “Start Over” undoes the notions of meeting expectations of a father or a partner and recovering from mistakes.
Fortunately, “Start Over” represents only a brief stray from the successful instrumentation and production on Welcome Home, but its experimentation fits the themes presented on the album. And ultimately, that makes it a misstep and not a mistake as it represents distances traveled, in this case for Zac Brown and his experimentations and collaborations. Those career decisions mattered, too, and inform how we interpret our past and present it to look at the future. The final three tracks take its shift in theme from “roots” to what comes next, and “Your Majesty”, “Trying to Drive”, and “All the Best”, define the knowledge presented by the opening tracks to the unknown that lies ahead. The closing track, “All the Best”, is a poignant cover of the John Prine song, and a deliberate statement to fit the mood and themes of the album.
Welcome Home is a beautiful record, full of imagery and experiences, and a worthy return to the style that made Zac Brown Band’s debut as successful as it was. It’s also a strong step forward to continuing the band’s success and ability to make personal connections to listeners.
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