In a sense, it's possible to measure the progress ofthe Zac Brown Bandby the magnitude of their guest stars. In 2010, they consolidated the breakthrough of 2008'sFoundationby enlistingJimmy Buffettand Alan Jacksonfor duets -- elders whose very presence suggested they were passing a torch (although, to be sure,Buffetthas a far greater pull onBrown's sound thanJackson). Two years later, it isthe Zac Brown Bandwho occupy the power position, drafting in peers, not idols, to play alongside. And it is a diverse batch: twee, twiddlyJason Mrazco-writes the sprightly opening cut, "Jump Right In," withZac, Trombone Shortycolors "Overnight" with some New Orleans funk, and upcoming folk/blues troubadour Amos Leesings on "Day That I Die," each guest representing a different field forthe ZBB, each suggesting the range of this ever-evolving nominal country band. And at this point,the Zac Brown Band would fit the grander stages of such worldly, knowing vaguely hippie enclaves as Bonnaroo better than they would a rocking country outlet somewhere in the Deep South. But Southern they are, in sensibility and sound, reflecting not the dusty beer joints and cutthroat honky tonks of the middle of the 20th century but the sports bars and sandy beaches of the present, the kinds of places where the kin ofthe Allmansfeel as Southern as the descendants ofGeorge Jones...and where a bearded soft rock crooner like Zac Brownis happy to make evident his debt toJames Taylor.Brown's sweeter side isn't hidden here but it's not quite as prominent as it's been in the past, either. He has plenty of soft, crooning melodies but there's a bit of bluegrass and a bit of reggae, a little blues and a lot of rock. Above anything else,Uncaged is aZac BrownBandalbum, one that emphasizes the range of this quintet and its elastic interplay. It is the sound of a band operating from a position of considerable strength: they're confident, assured, even playful, having fun bending the rules and blurring boundaries, eager to please but never pandering. It's the rare album that suggests how good the band would be in concert yet still sounds vibrant on record.
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