2017 CD FEATURE
ZAC BROWN BAND
WELCOME HOME (Southern Ground-Elektra-Warner.)
ZAC BROWN ROCKS HARRY CHAPIN'S CRADLE
“He was a lion, we were our father's pride but I was defiant/ when he made me walk the line, he knew how to lift me up and when to let me fall/ looking back, he always had a plan, my old man/ feel the callous on his hands and dusty overalls/ my old man now I finally understand I have a lot to learn from my old man/ now I'm a giant got a son of my own/ he's always trying to go everywhere I go/ do the best I can to raise him up the right way/ hoping that he someday wants to be/ like his old man.” - My Old Man - Zac Brown-Niko Moon-Ben Simonetti.
In Chapin's song the character's son turns out just like his sire as he grows from a child to a man.
Now, this is 39 years down the lost highway, and I would be the last to suggest Georgian father of five Zac borrowed Harry's theme.
Zac, now 38, wasn't born back then - no, not even in the cradle so perish the thought.
My memories of Chapin were not just his classic song but a generous gesture to your diarist when I ventured backstage at half time in Jacksonville and told him how much I admired another of his songs - Better Place To Be .
Harry reached for his guitar and sang me 10 verses of a song he hadn't yet finished and also signed autographs for my partner Carol who was back home writing for the Camperdown Chronicle .
But tonight she was sitting beside me, a rugby pass down the row from Melbourne Storm star Billy Slater, taking photos of Zac for the Nu Country TV concert review.
Brown's delivery of his evocative song brought a hush over the enthusiastic crowd at the Yarra bank court - for a good reason.
It's one of the highlights of his eighth album Welcome Home that topped Billboard charts on debut and would do the same here if there was a level radio playing field.
Cats in The Cradle won commercial radio airplay here in the seventies and way beyond.
But Chapin went to God prematurely on Long Island Expressway at 38 on July 16, 1981 en route to a charity concert when his 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit was collected by a tractor trailer-truck that ruptured his car's fuel tank and set it on fire.
Harry died despite being pulled from the incinerated wreckage by the truck driver and taken by police helicopter to a Nassau hospital where ten doctors tried for 30 minutes to revive him.
Although doctors diagnosed Harry's heart attack they couldn't establish whether it happened before or during the collision.
Luckily, for Australian fans Chapin played four Australian concerts during a working holiday in 1979 before his candle was snuffed.
His August 30 gig at the St Kilda Palais preceded three concerts at the Regent Theatre in Sydney.
But his music lives on.
Meanwhile back to the Zac's tune My Old Man.
“I tried to write dad songs before but never hit it on the head,” Brown confessed.
“I feel like we've finally written a song that can translate and make someone feel like that one made me feel. I'm glad my dad gets to hear this song.”
The singer's emotional live delivery of the paternal eulogy translates to the studio version.
“Songs are powerful things they really are, and music helped my life so much,” Brown explained.
“I wouldn't be the man that I am without it. A song makes you feel something, and that should be kind of the rule.”
Brown also expands on the song sources - his biological father Jim and his mentor Rodney Shelton.
“I inherited a lot of incredible people in my life,” says Brown.
“Other dads took me in and were part of my journey, so I had a lot of things to say.”
“The line ‘I hope he's proud of who I am,' that's really the icing on the cake.”
GEORGIAN RECALLS HIS DIXIE ROOTS
“My first best friend was a 6 string/ took him with me everywhere I go/ when I was 18, bought a Dodge van/ found a drummer and made the road my home/ Ooh, I wouldn't change a thing/ it made the man I am today/ my roots always keep me grounded/ roots, remind me where I'm from/ even when I'm a thousand miles away from my roots I'm home/ every Friday, you could find me/ at Dixie Tavern, playing with my band /we'd start the show with a round of whiskey/ and play our hearts out and wished it'd never end.” - Roots - Zac Brown-Niko Moon-Ben Simonetti-Coy Bowles.
Roots is extremely relevant to Zac's latest Australian tour, and of course, his pre-fame visit to Byron Bay that inspired an earlier hit Free.
This is indeed the strength of superior songsmiths and permeates following tune Real Thing that opens with gospel tinged piano giving it a spiritual undertone where the singer equates true love to a genuine homegrown whiskey reserved for special occasions.
And, of course, his music of choice.
Yes, there was plenty of room to move in those poignant parallels.
Equally powerful is the singer's plea to a partner to ride the storms of life in his road metaphors in Long Haul and 2 Places At 1 Time.
Welcome Home is a more accessible album than predecessor Jekyll & Hyde that featured an appearance on Heavy Is The Head from recently deceased Soundgarden and Audioslave singer-guitarist Chris Cornell.
Brown and fellow Georgian and recent Australian tourist Jason Aldean paid public tributes to Cornell who died at just 52 in Detroit while on tour.
Cornell and Aldean performed Just Gettin' Started together from Aldean's Old Boots, New Dirt album at 2014 CMT Artists of the Year concert.
The late Johnny Cash also recorded the Soundgarden song Rusty Cage for his 1996 album Unchained.
FAMILY TABLE FOR MORE THAN TWO
“ It's just an old piece of wood/ on top of four legs/ it's got a few coffee stains and a thousand marks from "god knows when"/ ain't too many things that could stand the test of time/ but this family table's held together by love that never dies/ so won't you come on in? / supper's almost done/ go ahead and call your friends/cause we got room for everyone/ let's make some memories, around this 9 foot pine/ pull up a chair and stay a while, at the family table.” - Family Table - Zac Brown-Niko Moon-Ben Simonetti.
Brown's sequencing of Family Table before My Old Man is not a quirk of fate.
It would appear Brown and producer Dave Cobb - cousin and producer of another new Georgian roots country singer Brent Cobb - have ensured their studio nuptials are a creative and financial pleasure.
Rural communities, less encumbered by the twin tyranny of traffic and terrorism, take more time to fertilise family interaction at home than city peers.
Zac and his band pay tribute to the centre piece of the family gathering place - yes, the family table.
It's also a reflection of the album's focus.
"We went back to being very minimalistic," Zac revealed.
"I feel like something happened to me when we were recording Jekyll + Hyde , where we cleaned the white board creatively. We got to experiment. We got to go all over the map, from rock to electronic songs. Now, I'm able to do all my experimental things with Sir Rosevelt , and it's helped me get down to the basics of what ZBB started out as, which was very much a singer-songwriter type of approach. That's really what the rest of this album is."
Love is universal as the singer demonstrates in Start Over - timely tuition in returning to the source to rekindle romance with a vocal and lyrical input from Pharrell Williams.
Equally invigorating for re-starting the heart is Your Majesty that owes more to admiration of beauty - human and natural - than the empresses in Europe.
Trying To Drive , featuring vocals by Madison Ryan, is not destined for RACV use - it's a sultry storm of life homily where the two conflicted hearts on wheels are liberated by the freedom of flying in tandem, not sky diving.
If that doesn't work Brown has another message in his finale - former Chicago mail-man and occasional Australian tourist John Prine's finale All The Best where the victims of ruptured romance bids adios to their dearly departed with some sage advice.
Texan troubadour Kacey Musgraves, who has descended from duet partner of Octogenarian Willie Nelson to seeking younger demographics on a Harry Styles tour, is the female foil on the song originally on Prine's 1991 album The Missing Years that won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
Welcome Home lives up to its title.