ZAC BROWN BAND
Several examples of country music flexibility are available in the music of the Zac Brown Band, an Atlanta ensemble.
Their debut full-length CD, The Foundation, includes one single, “Where the Boat Leaves From,” that’s among the few recent contemporary country tracks containing a very discernible (and enjoyable) funk rhythm pattern. There are other cuts that work in snippets of blues and soul influence, though country remains the dominant strain in their music.
Versatility and musical acumen are two traits that Brown insists on when recruiting musicians for his group.
“I’ve gone through a lot of really good musicians who for whatever reason just didn’t work out in the long haul,” Brown said. “For one thing, I’m interested in them being good people as well as good players. Then there’s also the ability to listen, be interested in contributing to a group and being someone that you could spend a lot of time around and not have a problem.”
Brown’s concern about character is reflected in his extensive efforts in the general community. He’s planning to use cash earned from his current release to help fund a non-profit children’s camp designed to teach music and art as well as nutritional awareness, teamwork and diversity.
The Zac Brown Band is now getting noticed not only regionally, but also nationally. Some of that has been gained through recent acclaimed appearances on tours with such bands as The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and B.B. King. They also appeared at the 2006 Bonnaroo Music Festival, and had the single “Chicken Fried” reach the Top 40 in slightly different form earlier this year. A prior version of Brown’s band cut the song back in 2003, but the new edition was re-recorded by Keith Stegall, who produced The Foundation.
The current lineup of the Zac Brown Band, which will appear Wednesday night in the parking lot of The Belcourt Theatre (7 p.m., 2102 Belcourt Ave., 846-3150) as part of their ongoing summer series, includes fiddler Jimmy De Martini, bassist John Hopkins, guitarist/organist Coy Bowles and drummer Chris Fryar.
“This is without question the best band that I’ve ever had and I couldn’t be happier with things right now,” Brown said. “They can play anything, they always have a lot of good ideas when we’re going over songs, and everyone’s a wonderful individual as well as an excellent musician.”
Nashville singer/songwriter Tori Sparks is now getting songs featured in many places. These include Paste magazine (which has her single “Cold War” as part of the sampler included in their July issue), Performing Songwriter (“Caged Bird” placed in the Top 12 among the magazine’s Top 12 DIY Downloads), and even a two-CD compilation by Universal Music France, which Sparks finds particularly interesting.
“I don’t necessarily consider ‘Cold War’ to be a country song, but these people from Universal Music France called me up and said they wanted to include it in this anthology,” Sparks said. “At first I thought it was somebody kidding around. But it was the real deal, and I wound up on a CD with Brad Paisley and Wynonna. Those are two fabulous talents and great musicians, but my song doesn’t sound anything like their tunes. But I am certainly grateful for the exposure.”
Sparks, who’ll appear Sunday night at 3rd and Lindsley (8 p.m., 818 Third Ave. S., 259-9891, $10) along with Danielia Cotton and Patrice Pike, has sung everything from jazz to rock, folk and Americana — something that’s reflective of her general love for music. Now a guitarist as well as a songwriter, she actually began as a classical cellist, which she says helped make the transition to guitar a lot easier.
“The toughest thing about a guitar in the beginning is what it does to your hands, but when you’ve played the cello, you’re already able to handle the physical challenges of the instrument,” Sparks said.
She’s displayed on her recent release, Under This Yellow Sun, a voice that is equal parts elegant, striking and rangy, while her songs can be soothing, evocative or energetic. Her latest release, which is currently available at various online locations and at Borders Bookstores in Nashville and Brentwood, was produced by David Henry, whom Sparks credits with truly understanding and getting the absolute best out of her during the recording.
“David is such a wonderful producer, and someone who really is my idea of how a producer should work,” Sparks said. “He didn’t try to make [me] sound a certain way, but instead wanted to get [my] ideas and then make them work. He wasn’t afraid to take things out or replace things in situations, rather than insisting on making everything sound multi-layered. Plus he played what seemed like a 100 different instruments on the record. We’re already discussing ideas for a new disc, and I hope we can get started either in January or later on in 2009.”
— Ron Wynn