Zac Brown Band, “The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1” (Southern Ground)
ZBB is a taut, road-tested country-rock outfit that over the past five years has been polished up and shoehorned into mainstream country, its life and vibrancy oozing out of it all the while. What Brown and his bandmates want is the license to rock unencumbered, like, say, the Allman Brothers Band. What Dave Grohl — ex-drummer of Nirvana, current frontman of Foo Fighters — wants are more bands, more live instruments, more music redolent of the sounds he grew up on.
After meeting at a John Varvatos store, Brown courted Grohl to work with his band, and “The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1” is the result — four songs tracked live to tape, with no computers deployed.
These songs, especially the mildly bluesy “All Alright” and the upbeat and slightly rowdy “Day for the Dead,” embody the best of all parties involved. Overall, the EP has more of the rambling, sparkling energy of Zac Brown Band’s live shows than has been captured on its earlier albums, and the quality of the songwriting is higher here, too.
Sometimes this EP highlights its weakness: Brown’s voice, which lacks power and nuance, and lays even flatter the goopier the lyric. That liability becomes even clearer as the musicianship around him elevates, not just by his bandmates but also by Grohl on drums or the Allmans’ Oteil Burbridge on bass. But the gifts Brown receives here are plenty, and he has spun gold from far less.
JON CARAMANICA, New York Times
Various artists, “The Music of ‘Nashville’ Original Soundtrack, Season 2, Vol. 1” (Big Machine)
Midway through its second season, “Nashville,” the ABC melodrama about country stars and hopefuls, continues to get the music right. That’s no surprise, since Buddy Miller, a great Americana artist himself, is in charge of it, after sharing duties in the first season with T Bone Burnett. And once again, he has top writers and players to support the singing actors.
That means even the more radio-friendly material, like the swaggering country rock of “What If I Was Willing,” sung by Chris Carmack, and Hayden Panettiere’s “Trouble Is,” sound better than a lot of the stuff coming out of Music Row. Jonathan Jackson’s ballad “How You Learn to Live Alone” is on the fey side, but everything else has plenty of rootsy character, from the sisterly harmonies of Lennon and Maisy on “A Life That’s Good” to the bluesy bite of Connie Britton and Will Chase’s “Ball and Chain” and Charles Esten’s “Playin’ Tricks.” Those and more help make this the strongest “Nashville” collection yet.
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer