Zac Brown and Dave Grohl make great music together

New York Times News ServiceDecember 26, 2013 

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    ‘The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1’ (Southern Ground)

    Zac Brown Band

Getting what you need is nice, but getting what you want is best of all. That said, how fortunate that Zac Brown and Dave Grohl have selected each other for gift exchange this year.

The group that carries Brown’s name, Zac Brown Band, is a taut, road-tested, country-rock outfit that over the last 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, to place themselves not in the lineage of anodyne country chill-bros like Kenny Chesney but in the rowdy Southern rock pantheon alongside the Allman Brothers Band.

Grohl – onetime drummer of Nirvana, current front-dude of Foo Fighters – is a man who would prefer a life that didn’t include the Internet, computer-aided recording technology, and possibly electricity. A man who, at the 2012 Grammys, gave a speech emphasizing the primacy of “the human element of music.” What Grohl wants are more bands, more hands put upon instruments, more music redolent of the sounds he grew up on, and that he can be a part of making.

That Brown and Grohl met was an auspicious thing, given their desires.

Brown courted Grohl to work with his band, and “The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1” is the result, the first of what’s been advertised as a pair of EPs. Four songs tracked live to tape, with no computers deployed – this is the stuff of Grohl’s fantasies, and an opportunity for Brown to reframe his band before Nashville hopelessly freezes it.

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.

The weakness of the EP: Brown’s voice, which lacks power and nuance, and lays even flatter the goopier the lyric. But the gifts Brown receives here are plenty, and he has spun gold from far less.

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