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Zac Brown Band provides perfect summer soundscape

Comcast Centre, Mansfield, Mass., August 15, 2013

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Zac Brown band was the perfect summer outing - the Jimmy Buffett of country (when Buffett isn't doing country). The Georgia band's music is airy, fun, catchy and just enough earnestness without the bearded as usual knitted cap Brown and company ever seeming insincere or over the top (well for the most part).

Zac Brown Band has a lot of material (and hits) to draw upon also, starting with Jump Right In from the band's latest "Uncaged" to the fast-paced country of Whiskey's Gone.

Brown pretty much takes all vocal lines and deservedly so. He's on the smoother side vocally and goes down pretty easy with enough timbre in his voice. Brown also was adept in engaging the crowd not so much with his words, but with his actions. He made liberal use of a walkway going into the audience and went for a walk around one side of the crowd.

The band may be named after Brown, but you get the sense throughout that this is not a case of Zac Brown and friends. Far from it.

Every band member contributes mightily to what makes the band effective. Clay Cook and Coy Bowles alternate on lead guitar and keyboards. Daniel de los Reyes was real strong on percussion, while drummer Chris Fryar set a very steady beat throughout. He was aided by a brand new bassist on his very first gig making a strong rhythm section.

Fiddle player Jimmy DeMartini was stellar throughout spicing up numerous songs, while also providing lots of backing harmonies. John Driscoll Hopkins played guitar, upright bass and contributed vocals as well (in addition to being the most interesting looking member by far with ultra, poofy silver long mutton chops and hair)

The band played effectively in a living room type set-up on the walkway mid-way through the 127-minute show, playing four songs including a strong cover of David Gray's Babylon and James Taylor's The Frozen Man.

About the only time the band overdid it was when they came out for the encore with glowing skeletons on their body and skeleton masks. It was a nice visual effect, but fortunately they did not need to rely on gimmicks to make for a satisfying night.

Nor should they have relied on a cover of Led Zep's Kashmir. Bowles took the lead, but, well, he's no Robert Plant. Not a good choice. Fortunately, they closed with a far better pick - Charlie Daniels Band's The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

ZBB has its own spin on what qualifies in the ultra-side swath of country music these days. No matter what style they are - ranging from country to rock - they are entertaining. And they get to do it all over again for a second show on Friday night.

the project for Robison and Erwin.

And while they have not yet reached the commercial heights of the Chicks, The Court Yard Hounds are a legit musical endeavor. The duo's new disc, "Amelita," is a very solid sophomore effort.

During their too short 35-minute set, the Hounds played songs from both of their albums, opting for a breezy, Sheryl Crow sound. It went down real easy with songs like The Coast and See You in the Spring with guitarist Charlie Sexton taking the male vocal lines, and the catchy Rock All Night from "Amelita."

Natalie Maines, of course, is the lead singer of the Chicks with Robison and Maguire having been relegated to backing harmonies. Here, Robison stepped out as the lead singer (she was lead on all songs in the show, although on the new disc, Maguire takes a few turns), and she was a worthy one with a strong voice containing enough color. And she sure played a lot of instruments ranging from banjo to Dobro. Robison also received much vocal help from her sister with loads of gorgeous harmonies punctuated with occasional muscular fiddle swells.

The lone problem was that Robison didn't hit the high notes a few times during the otherwise lively title track of the new disc closing their night.

The Court Yard Hounds did not rest on past laurels. They are taking charge of their musical lives and making mighty fine music recorded and live.

Opening act Levi Lowery didn't have many folks in the crowd when he hit the stage, but that didn't seem to matter to the long-bearded, long-haired friend of ZBB. Lowery had only had 20 minutes to show his stuff, but he made the most of it.

The Georgian demonstrated a variety of styles, including a big change of direction with the closing song of the four-song set, a talking song with humor about facing a group of roughnecks in Texas.

Lowery, who also helped write the Zac Brown Band hits Colder Weather and The Wind, showed he ought to be known for more than being a friend thereof.