The Owl

Zac Brown / Zac Brown Band

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The Owl Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

The ghost of Sir Rosevelt looms over The Owl. Zac Brown's dance side project released an album soon after Welcome Home, the 2017 album from the Zac Brown Band, but it was buried, not even making an appearance on Billboard's Top 400. Brown didn't interpret this lack of success as rejection. Instead, he decided to push the Zac Brown Band firmly into pop, inviting Max Martin, Ryan Tedder, Poo Bear, and Skrillex into the studio to collaborate. This list of premium pop and dance producers suggests that The Owl is a far cry from the downhome charms of the Dave Cobb-produced Welcome Home, and that's true. The Owl gleams like a shiny new trinket from an upscale mall, its individual songs designed to ease onto any playlist you'd fancy. Nominally country, The Owl often throbs to electronic rhythms and is slathered in synths, to the point where even a funky blues number like "Me and the Boys in the Band" is polished so it could be considered pop. Unlike so many pop moves from country artists, The Owl is executed cleverly, never renouncing the core elements of the Zac Brown Band: "Shoofly Pie" is a loose-limbed rocker designed to keep the crowds moving during the mid-set, and "Leaving Love Behind" leans into Brown's James Taylor side. These cozy numbers just happen to be anomalies on The Owl. The rest of the record finds Brown defiantly bringing the glitzy party sensibility of Sir Rosevelt into the Zac Brown Band, getting his main group to play EDM rhythms, take a detour into rap, and play a ballad co-written by Shawn Mendes. The fact that a good chunk of the numbers work does not erase how deeply strange this album is. A band who once celebrated the simple pleasures of toes in the sand are now singing about champagne glasses filled with diamonds and, no matter how many times The Owl is spun, it's impossible to tell how they got to this point.

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