The title of Zac Brown Band’s new album The Comeback is an apt description in more ways than one. The group wrote and recorded the album while being off the road last year due to the ongoing pandemic and titled it to coincide with the anticipation of finally returning to the stage.
On the album, the group returns to the fiddle-laden, bluegrass-tinged songs and clever country wordplay that defined some of their earlier works, while the lyrics on the album are steeped in topics including nostalgia, young love and unity. Frontman Zac Brown says current single “Same Boat” — which resides in the Top 10 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart — was inspired by observing the deep unrest that the country has gone through in recent years, both politically and culturally.
“I got kind of sick to my stomach with all the political divide that our country was going through in the media and on social media, and just seeing the manipulation that was happening,” Brown says. “What they painted America to be during that time is not what it is, I don’t feel like. Obviously, there’s injustice and unrest in certain areas but that’s not the whole of who we are. I wanted to create something that helped people to see how we’re the same, rather than how divided we are. We all gotta get through this period of time together. I believe in our country. It’s a strange world out there, but this is still the greatest country in the world.”
Brown co-produced the album alongside Ben Simonetti, who, like Brown, is a co-writer on every track. The album also includes collaborations with jazz artist Gregory Porter on “Closer To Heaven” while Marcus King offers sizzling vocals and guitar riffs on “Stubborn Pride.” Elsewhere, new love reigns on songs like “Us Against The World” and “Slow Burn.”
For the group’s past few albums, Zac Brown Band has opted to work with a different record label for the release of each project. For The Comeback, they teamed with Warner Music Nashville in partnership with the band’s own Home Grown Music. The deal marks a homecoming of sorts, as the group previously issued albums via Atlantic and Elektra Records.
“I shopped the early recordings of the album with a few different labels and the next week when I talked to [Warner Music Nashville executive vp, A&R] Cris Lacy again, she knew every lyric to every song,” says Brown. “That type of passion is what sold me. I met the rest of the team and Warner is just a bunch of badasses, the energy is refreshing. I feel like I’ve found my label home, which I haven’t really had before.” Zac Brown Band is booked by WME and managed by Home Grown Music.
Following the arrival of The Comeback, Brown revealed to Billboard what he geeked out on while crafting the album.
B3 Organs and a 1960 Les Paul
“We used some analog gear, as far as pre-amps and compressors,” says Brown. “This isn’t an album full of samples and electronic sounds, just us using a real B3 organ like what we carry on the road with us — this is our live set up that we play through. The guys had their pedal boards for certain sounds. When I had Marcus come in, he played on my 1960 Les Paul through an amp that’s a copy of what Derek Trucks plays through.”
“I love Marcus [King] as an artist. I think he’s going to be one of the best guitar players that’s ever lived. He’s got the voice, unrivaled skills on the guitar — Derek Trucks is the only guy that I know that can play on that level, besides Marcus. Watching him play on “Stubborn Pride,” he did four takes and every one was brilliant. I had to ask him afterwards, ‘What does it feel like to just play like that, to be able to flow like you are just having a conversation with someone?’ He said, ‘It’s an emotional place and I just wanted y’all to have a piece of me on here.'”
Continues Brown: “Gregory is one of my favorite singers. ‘Real Good Hands’ is one of the first songs I heard of his, and his voice reminded me of Bill Withers. I just cold called him and asked him to be on the song. His wife was about to have a baby like any day, but he still made it happen. We are going to have him on the road with us some next year. “
“I’ve always heard of people taking a year to make an album and I thought, ‘What would that be like?’ Because we’ve always made an album in like, two weeks. We’d cram it in the middle of everything else we had going on. But this time we got to intentionally write all the songs for the album, produce it and sift [through] every single detail of it.
“My last few albums that I made I got to work with some of my favorite producers, either from the pop world or the country world and I got to learn some of their process along the way, just certain rhythmic things that create motion in a song, even a slow song.” On The Comeback, continues Brown, “I had time to create, and then step away from it to see how it makes me feel. That’s one of my strengths as a producer, being able to tell if what is on there is going to be accessible. I feel like I have a very common ear for things to know if they are going to translate well to other people.”
Music His Kids Listen To
I’ve been on a tear the last couple of years listening to Gregory Alan Isakov. He’s a really great songwriter, great production. He did an album with the Colorado Symphony and I loved that record. Obviously, Brandi Carlile, I’m just starting to dive into her new album [In These Silent Days]. I also listen to what my kids listen to, so Olivia Rodrigo and last summer it was Harry Styles.
I love Tenille Townes. She did this great acoustic record Living Room Worktapes. I’m a bigger fan of just her voice and a guitar than even the full album [2020’s The Lemonade Stand], because you can just hear what she’s playing and singing. She’s another really bright light that’s out there.