Over the last two calendar years, Zach Bryan has become a breakthrough country artist who has been releasing music at a blistering rate. In 2022, the debut of his “American Heartbreak” album exploded his “one man on a barstool” career into stardom. His lyrical style of putting everyday life experiences and human emotion into storyteller songs has stayed the same over the years. In this latest album simply titled “Zach Bryan” you will find elements of lost relationships, longings for feelings of home and a reminiscing on how things used to be. However, when you find that same Zach Bryan feeling, it will be bolstered in several ways.
In the song “Hey Driver” featuring Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter of The War and Treaty Bryan takes a step back from the microphone. Listeners can hear Bryan say, “This is your song Mike, let’s do it.” Bryan’s voice becomes the consistent smooth background, while the Trotter’s take the spotlight with soul and active dynamics. With the primary instrument complimenting these three vocalists being piano, this song feels like three friends in a living room describing a simplistic home just beyond the lonely winding road. The journey to find home is a theme found in much of Bryan’s music such as “The Outskirts” and “Tishomingo” from “American Heartbreak.”
“The Lumineers,” Kacey Musgraves and Sierra Ferrell feature in “Zach Bryan.” All three songs describe romantic relationships. “Holy Roller” with Ferrell describes a love that is very human and simple. The chorus singing “I ain’t ever been a holyroller, but I found God in your eyes”. In contrast“ I remember everything” with Kacey Musgraves tells a story about love that is lost, but memories that endure. Much like “Holy Roller”, “Spotless” featuring “The Lumineers” is a love song portraying the power of love between people of imperfection. A repetitive line in this song is “If you want spotless, I’ll always lose, I don’t want love, lover I want the truth”.
A lyrical skill Bryan owns with writing romance songs is that he can fully capture love and heartbreak without making the subject the representative of absolute goodness or evil. The subjects of his love are portrayed in wholesome details that make them feel fully human to the listener. They are not written to be perfect angels redeeming his troubled past, nor are they the villains of his heartbreak. In his songs people are people whether the love he has shared with them is present or gone away. That is the draw many listeners have to Bryan’s work. They imagine themselves finding love because the subjects of his love songs are not fairytales. They are loved for the ways they dance or prefer their coffee. Bryan’s lyrics give hope that love is something for the most ordinary of people.
The final new element presented in this album is the angst that seems to be stemming from Bryan’s newfound career. “Ticking” and “Tradesman” are two songs fueled by a life spent celebrity collaborations, diverse instrumental features, and an overall more interesting musical experience compared to previous albums. Bryan also presents a new dimension to his typical country boy angst, now singing about struggles associated with the demands and life changes associated with his growing career. On the road and away from the life the singer, presumably Bryan, used to live. “Ticking” is song of letting go. It is as though the singer has come to terms with the requirements of a life spent on the road. Specifically, the love that he has for a girl must be cut off. It is as though Bryan is caught between love and success putting him in a place where he is dissatisfied either way. Finally in the song “Tradesman” Bryan sings a heartfelt tune wishing himself back to the days of blue-collar work. Where he felt the simple satisfaction found in early mornings and sweat. He describes feelings of ostracization in the career he finds himself singing “They look at me so strange when I talk”.
Overall, this artist named album brings that classic Zach Bryan feel with new flavors. He is certainly branching beyond the same cowboy chord repertoire and proving himself as a high- quality musician and writer. With new voices, instruments, and emotional elements this album has listeners humming on their way to class, feeling nostalgic for a life, they perhaps, have never even lived.