October 16, 2008
In my earlier review of the single “Chicken Fried,” I criticized co-writers Zac Brown and Wyatt Durrette for penning what struck me as an uncreative, thoughtless appeal to Southern pride. It frankly wasn’t my favorite critique to write, and not just because the post has consistently drawn negative feedback from fans of the song; I felt disheartened to be speaking ill of a relatively little-known act, let alone a vocal group with an actual fiddle (as any reprieve from the bland-pop domination of Rascal Flatts is always fine by me). That said, I could not ignore what seemed to be lacking in the composition: a sense of real personality. The lyrics were just too cookie-cutter country, the sentiment too hackneyed. It was all pleasant enough, but very nondescript – like anyone could have done it.
So it’s the most terrific sort of surprise, really, to discover that the video for the song is exactly the opposite. My distaste for the clip’s soundtrack notwithstanding, I can’t help but marvel at the real-world beauty of Brown’s subject matter here, not to mention the artful care with which it has been captured. “Chicken Fried” will never be one of my favorite numbers, but credit must be given where it’s due, because this video manages to compensate for some of the weaknesses of the song while doubling as a wholly endearing introduction to the band.
We open with some shin-level footage of the boys jamming wickedly for the entertainment of a pet dog, and right off the bat, there’s a magnetism that wasn’t there on record. It’s not that it’s the absolute best pickin’ you’ve ever heard; it’s the unspoken statement behind it. “We are Zac Brown Band, and this, first and foremost, is what we do. This is us.” It feels organic, and it makes the ensuing fade into graininess feel like the beginning of a deeply personal story, even if the song itself doesn’t sound like one.
But that’s the great phenomenon at work here: visual goodies filling in the blanks left by the lyrics. The direction focuses on “little moments” that paint a nuanced and almost Utopian portrait of the world Brown and company are celebrating, but where the song’s descriptive approach is frustratingly broad, the imagery harnessed in the video is strikingly specific. Brown is content to casually mention “the shade of a Georgia pine,” but the video delights in showing you, with beautifully edited shots, just how rich and expressive a Georgia pine can really be. Brown tells you very simply that his house is “filled with love”; the video shows you some of the specific moments that comprise that love and make it so vital.
And truly, I don’t know that I’ve seen a music video that portrayed such aspects of down-home living as genuinely as this one does. It actually feels more like a high-quality home video than a big-time promotional effort, with baby bottles and tattooed, overalls-sporting older gentlemen in greater abundance than the Abercrombie hotties that comprise, say, Chuck Wicks’ latest.
But perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the video – and Reason #1 why director Clifton Collins, Jr. deserves a big pat on the back – is that it provides, through the grainier segments, an actual backstory to the military shout-out that comprises the song’s third verse, making even that jarring section feel grounded in genuine human experience. That verse still disrupts the song’s flow, but at least it has some self-evident basis for being brought up this time around, accentuating the difference between patriotism for patriotism’s sake, and patriotism that’s based on some earned understanding of what freedom really means – and costs.
And then, of course, there’s the band themselves, who look like they’re having a blast here (and rightfully so). Brown, for his part, has sort of an understated, mountain-man kind of charm that radiates well onscreen, while his partners make banging on the drums and walking up and down the upright bass look like the most unequivocally joyful activities in the world. Personally, I’m still waiting to hear the band produce something with lyrics that don’t read like a deep-south Hallmark card. But beautiful scenery plus musicians actually enjoying music? Not a bad place to start.
Directed by Clifton Collins, Jr.
Watch: Chicken Fried