Zac Brown Band has had quite an interesting career over the past 15 years. From their incredible hot streak at the beginning to the string of controversies that followed, it’s safe to say that the band is one of the most eclectic and interesting ones in all of country music.
For clarity, the band’s first album from 2005, Home Grown, will not appear on the list given that it is unavailable for streaming and is not included in the band’s official discography. Their 2013 EP, The Grohl Sessions, Vol.1, will also not appear on the list despite it being four of the strongest songs the band has released to this day.
Here is my ranking of the Georgia band’s seven studio albums.
7. The Owl
The Owl has earned quite a reputation since its release back in 2019. From its baffling production choices to its downright cringeworthy writing, it is hard to believe that this is the same band that created Colder Weather and As She’s Walking Away. Out of the 11 tracks that are present, there are roughly three songs that can even be considered country songs. The Owl came out at a very odd time for Brown and the band. It seems as if Brown was having some sort of midlife crisis and identity crisis as an artist at the time. Between The Owl and Brown’s solo (correctly labeled Pop) album, it was clear that something was going on with Brown from at least a creative standpoint. Overall, The Owl will always hold a strange place in the Zac Brown Band mythos and serves as a reminder that experimentation only works when the songs being produced outside the genre are good.
Standout Track: Leaving Love Behind
6. JEKYLL + HYDE
Following the success of Uncaged, it was clear that the band wanted to push the envelope even harder in regard to genre-blending and experimentation. While it is not even close to being the failure that The Owl is, it does suffer from similar issues. For starters, though the songs present on this album sound amazing on their own; however, they do not feel cohesive as an album. This mainly stems from so many different sounds and styles being used throughout JEKYLL + HYDE. It’s safe to say that it is the exact effect that Brown wanted while making a record with a name like JEKYLL + HYDE. That being said, it just doesn’t quite work for me. Brown features a metal track featuring the late great Chris Cornell, a beachy jazz track with Sara Bareilles, multiple pop tracks, a second metal song, a Jason Isbell cover and more in this 16-track album. The lack of cohesion, not the lack of quality, is what plagues this album in particular for me.
Standout Track: Bittersweet
5. Welcome Home
Welcome Home was the band’s first “return to normal” record after the divisiveness of JEKYLL + HYDE. With the first track literally being called Roots which references Chicken Fried in the third verse, it is very apparent that they wanted to win back fans who may have left due to the experimental nature of JEKYLL + HYDE two years previous. This results in Welcome Home feeling extremely safe and a bit boring. Though much more cohesive and overall country compared to the bottom two entries, I can’t help but wish that the band carried over a bit of the edge and experimentation present on Uncaged and JEKYLL + HYDE. That being said, there are some incredible, traditional tracks such as Trying to Drive and the John Prine cover, All The Best, present on Welcome Home that elevate the record quite a bit.
Standout Track: Trying to Drive
4. The Comeback
The Comeback is the second “return to normal” album for the band after the disaster that was The Owl. It’s similar to Welcome Home in the sense that it feels like another “apology album,” essentially telling fans that they were sorry for how bad The Owl was. However, The Comeback feels, well, like a comeback for the Georgia-based band. There’s a little bit of everything that they are known for on this record. There are some beachy songs (Same Boat, Paradise Lost on Me), there are some heavier, rocking tracks (Out in the Middle, GA Clay) and there are some acoustic, traditional tracks (Wild Palomino, Love and Sunsets). Though The Comeback still feels a bit safe compared to their top three albums, I ultimately think that this album was overlooked by many due to how bad The Owl was two years before it.
Standout Track: Stubborn Pride (feat. Marcus King)
3. The Foundation
It’s difficult to imagine another album being more successful than The Foundation. Containing four #1 singles (Chicken Fried, Free, Toes, Highway 20 Ride) and one #2 single (Whatever It is), the album is currently 5x platinum. It’s no surprise that this record did so well commercially, it’s simply that good. I would go as far as to say that it is one of the best major label debut albums, up there with Eric Church’s Sinners Like Me and Brooks & Dunn’s Brand New Man. The Foundation contains everything that the band would become known for, laying the foundation (no pun intended) for future improvements and experimentation in future albums.
Standout Track: Highway 20 Ride
2. You Get What You Give
Choosing between Uncaged and You Get What You Give was a monumental task; both records are simply that good. For country purists, You Get What You Give will most likely take the #1 spot on the band’s rankings due to how unabashedly country this album is. All 16 tracks (counting the four iTunes/Apple Music exclusive songs) are absolutely country, playing with different subgenres throughout. There are some beach country (Knee Deep, Settle Me Down), there are some rocking tracks (Who Knows, Make This Day) and there are some ballads (Colder Weather, Martin, Cold Hearted) all strewn about this record. You Get What You Give is a bit of a monster, coming in at just under an hour and twenty minutes; however, it is a wholly unique musical experience.
Standout Track: Martin
Coming in at #1 is 2012’s Uncaged. I will be the first one to admit that this album is simply not for everyone. Like The Owl and JEKYLL + HYDE, Uncaged is traversing a wide array of musical sounds. Brown and Co. incorporate elements of bluegrass, rock, jazz, R&B and even a bit of reggae into this country album. Unlike, the two aforementioned albums, it works wonders on Uncaged. This mainly has to do with some brilliant production from both Brown and Keith Stegall throughout the record and songwriting that doesn’t feel contrived and uninspired. Each song feels exceptionally well-realized and full with songs such as Goodbye in Her Eyes and Sweet Annie feeling epic much in the vein of Eagles ballads of the 1970s. This record certainly is not for everyone, especially those who consider themselves country purists. However, there are not many albums across any genre that feel this sonically unique, well-realized and fresh while simultaneously staying true to the band’s original sound. Uncaged is Zac Brown Band’s magnum opus.
Standout Track: Sweet Annie