In an ever-conscious effort to appeal to all, and offend none, the country music industry seem thoroughly convinced that the way to achieve mass appeal is to slather everything in watery, tasteless pop sludge, and to avoid at all costs offending listeners’ tastes through anything twangy or overtly country-sounding. In such a market, singles such as the excellent new Zac Brown Band offering are becoming more and more of a rarity.
“The Wind” – our first taste of the Zac Brown Band’s upcoming album Uncaged, due out July 10 – is crisp, clean, and attention-grabbing right from the opening chords as the band picks away furiously at high speed. The record soars with the sounds of Jimmy De Martini’s fiddling, Clay Cook’s mandolin picking, as well as Brown’s breezy yet focused lead vocal, all of which imbue a strong sense of urgency to the song. It sounds more like a skilled jam session than a calculated product of a recording studio session.
It’s tempting to give the record a free pass on its sound alone, but the lyrics rise to the occasion, offering colorful imagery and figurative language to portray a narrator who will never stop loving his estranged significant other, mixing strong tones of heartbreak with an undercurrent of hope. The fact that the song even exists is cool enough, but the fact that it’s coming from an act with an unbroken string of Top 2 hit singles – an act who stands the best possible chance of putting the song into heavy radio rotation – is almost unbelievable.
It’s hard not to compare “The Wind” to the offerings from country music’s other leading vocal group, Lady Antebellum, who often seem to remain one step ahead of the Zac Brown Band at the award circuit. Yet, if one compares “The Wind” side by side with the absolute train wreck that it is Lady Antebellum’s current single, the stark difference in quality is so obvious that it should be embarrassing.
Is there any space left on country radio for music that just plain sounds good? And cool? And that actually goes so far as to arrest the attention of the listener?
Maybe. Maybe not. The Zac Brown Band’s high commercial profile may very well make this song a hit – we shall see. Even if it that doesn’t happen, “The Wind” is still perhaps the most enticing preview of the band’s new album that we could hope to get.