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Zac Brown Band at DTE, 5 Things To Know

By Gary Graff

» See more SOUND CHECK

The Zac Brown Band certainly faced a challenge for its new album, “Welcome Home.”

It’s the follow-up to the wide-ranging 2015 set “Jekyll + Hyde,” a million-seller that which hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and Country Albums charts netted the Georgia group a slew of award nominations -- with an iHeartRadio Music Award Rock Song of the Year trophy for “Heavy Is The Head,” which featured a guest appearance by the late Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell.

“Welcome Home,” which came out in May and was the ZBB’s fourth consecutive No. 1 on the country charts, is a much simpler affair, more homespun than its predecessor and closer to the “Chicken Fried” ZBB of the late 00s. But multi-instrumentalist Coy Bowles, who co-wrote “Welcome Home’s” opening track “Roots,” tells us the group likes it both -- and all -- ways...

• Noting that on “Jekyll + Hyde” the ZBB was “really pushing the envelope in a lot of different places stylistically, just to kind of scratch some itches,” Bowles says “Welcome Home” came from a more personal than technical place. “I think Zac kind of came up with a kind of vision,” Bowles explains from his home in Georgia. “He wanted this to be a personal album, and that’s when the whole idea of going back to the very beginning came about, without trying to push the envelope in any certain direction. It’s just us playing songs like we do.”

• “Roots,” which Bowles co-wrote, was one of the first songs done for the album. “’Roots’ was really kind of the first song that started defining what the album was going to be,” Bowles recalls. “After the shows and stuff I would hop on Zac’s bus with him and Niko (Moon) and Ben (Simonetti), who wrote most of the songs on the album, and hang out and they were playing a tune for me and I said, ‘It would be really cool if there was, like, this Springsteen moment in the tune,’ where it breaks down and you kind of have this revolving line and Zac kind of ad-libs over the top of it. We’ve seen Springsteen a handful of times over the years and played with him and stuff, and when you see him control the crowd as he does you’re just mesmerized, and in order for him to do that he has to write tunes with the idea that the crowd will sing along. It doesn’t just naturally happen. So I was saying that it would be cool if we had a Springsteen moment in this song that would do that, and I came up with the ‘Don’t give up hold on a little longer/What don’t kill you only makes you stranger” line. And then Dave Cobb, who produced the album, was like, ‘I love that line, but it needs to be, like an outro on the song. So we switched it and it worked out great. It was really cool to be part of writing it.”

• “Coming Home” also includes a writing collaboration with Pharrell Williams -- who’s part of Brown’s side project Sir Roosevelt -- on the track “Start Over.” “Zack’s been hanging out with Pharrell for about a year on and off,” Bowles says. Zac speaks really highly of him, and I’m a big fan of what he does, and I think them hanging out has been really good for Zac on both sides of what he does. Sometimes you meet people and you have high expectations of them and they don’t really fit the bill, but I think Pharrell exceeds what you think he would be, which is really cool.”

• Like the rest of the music world, Chris Cornell’s death on May 18 in Detroit hit the ZBB hard -- perhaps even harder because of the group’s collaboration with him. “I don’t really think I’ve processed it all that well yet. I’ve just had to kind of glaze over it,” Bowles says. “It was something that greatly affected me -- all of us, really. It was just one of those things where we looked at each other and were like, ‘Man, this really sucks, dude’ -- ‘Cause it’s happening a lot, lately, the deaths of our heroes. Leon Russell, who we played with, passed away not too long ago, and right after that Chris Cornell and right after that Gregg Allman, three people who were all giant heroes of ours that we’ve actually gotten to play with. So it’s been a weird past couple of months. So what more can you do besides, ‘Dude, that sucks’ and then start to go back and listen to old recordings and do some kind of homage, you know?”

• Bowles and the ZBB also have experience playing with Allman, which Bowles also recalls fondly: “I play slide guitar, so when they said Gregg was coming to sit in with us I said, ‘Is there any way we can play ‘Statesboro Blues,’ ‘cause there’s not a better slide guitar song and there’s not a better person to play it with then him. And Gregg said, ‘Yeah, I love to play that song.’ So, man, I went home and I sat before the show for five hours and played that opening line, I played that for five hours straight knowing that when I got on stage with Gregg Allman I was not gonna be nervous cos I could play this thing backwards and forwards in my sleep. So I can die a happy man for sure knowing I got to play ‘Statesboro Blues’ with Gregg Allman. It was an absolute dream come true.”

If You Go:

• Zac Brown Band and Darrell Scott

• 7 p.m. Thursday, June 8.

• DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township.

• Tickets are sold out.

• Call 248-377-0100 or visit palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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