The Music Moment: Zach Bryan’s Self-Titled Album

5 mins read

I have ridden the fear, although I was afraid every single time

I’ve learned that every waking moment is enough

And excess never leads to better things

It only piles and piles atop the things that are already abundantly in front of you

Like breathing and chasing and slow dancing and love-making

And fighting and laughing

Zach Bryan’s fourth album is a masterpiece of lyricism and musical maturity. Bryan is one of very few artists today that is genuine but can still sell out stadiums, and his dignity comes through in every song. This album is a reminder to cherish loved ones and to find pride and beauty in the people and stories that we take for granted. Bryan experiments with new instruments and genres, from brass to piano, from classic rock to jazz. Listeners will forever treasure the 54 minutes that they spend with Bryan, his band, and the beloved artists that feature in his August 25th LP. 

The album opens with a poem titled, “Fear and Friday’s (Poem).” Bryan’s words flow, almost prayer-like, over acoustic guitar and sounds of rain. 

I do not, and will not fear tomorrow

Because I feel as though today has been enough

And I got no hate in my heart for anything, anywhere, or anyone

And I think fear and Friday’s got an awful lot in common

They’re overdone, and glorified, and always leave you wantin’”

Many songs feature new instruments and production styles that distinguish this record from his earlier work. 

“Overtime” is easily one of my favorite songs on the record. It is a driving track that bears a sharp contrast to the preceding poem and Bryan’s signature slower songs. He sings about overcoming multiple generations of family stagnation within a town and an occupation, while also having respect for family and its history. This song’s true hallmark is its display of Bryan’s recent experimentation with new instruments and production styles. The track does feature acoustic guitar—a Zach Bryan constant—and introduces drums, strings, and horns beautifully interwoven with electric guitar. In terms of production and musical arrangement, this is one of the most complex tracks that Bryan has ever released.

“Fear and Friday’s” is an upbeat song that deals with the metaphorical darkness behind a “hoppin’” Friday night. Bryan discusses how people use weekends, alcohol, and shallow connections to escape fear and loneliness. The song features a guitar riff and bass line throughout, and harmonica skates over the lower notes to provide an incredibly lush sound. Bryan’s tendency not to overuse the powers of modern music production technology makes the listener feel as though they are sitting in the studio and hearing the band record the song for the very first time.

“Jake’s Piano – Long Island” brought me to tears. This is a two-part song, beginning with “Jake’s Piano.” There is a sweet piano melody, which Bryan interludes, his voice breaking, to sing about his late mother. He sings, “The best parts of you are here, but you’re still gone.” Acoustic guitar, drums, and electric guitar join the symphony during the second part of the song, “Long Island.” Nostalgia, grief, and longing intersect throughout the five-minute ballad, as the music crescendos to match the complexity of the emotions Bryan evokes. 

“East Side of Sorrow” begins with a decidedly Appalachian feel, with rippling overlaid acoustic patterns and melodies, and what may very well be a cowbell. This song is immersive, as the choruses rise with horns and drums then fall back into quiet acoustic verses. The song details how Bryan grappled with the extreme loss and blow to his belief system that occurred after his mother passed away while he was serving in the Navy, and the hope that he found for the “east side of sorrow.” 

Though Bryan experimented with new genres and musical tools, many songs returned to signature Zach Bryan: a guy and an acoustic guitar breaking listeners’ hearts. 

“Summertime’s Close” demonstrates Bryan’s magnetic talent for poetic depictions of the human experience. This song paints a mournful picture of the loss of a loved one, and features vivid descriptions and metaphors that tell a story in themselves. Bryan describes sweet memories with the dearly departed, the kinds of small moments that only loss makes one remember. Interludes of harmonica and guitar between verses force the listener to slow down and consider the experience that he has put forth.

“Ticking” is one of my favorite songs on the album. Bryan’s violinist, Lucas Ruge-Jones, brings contemporary relevance to the instrument without sacrificing its value or quality. The bittersweet track evokes the loneliness of having to watch a love fade away. The narrator must drive from Oklahoma to Ohio, to Philadelphia, and has to relinquish the joy and love that gave his existence meaning in order to do the work that is necessary to sustain a life. The melody is beautiful and intoxicating, and Bryan’s voice has a unique gentleness. 

“Oklahoman Son” features Bryan alone with his favored acoustic guitar. It’s a song about how an Oklahoman’s roots always force them to return. The song puts poignant words to the experience of trying and failing to completely grow beyond one’s nurture. Bryan returns to his own roots during this track, as it is a lyrically-complex acoustic tune, the likes of which he has been making since 2019.

“Smaller Acts” is a lovely acoustic track that sounds like camping, with Bryan playing the guitar around a campfire alongside croaking frogs and chirping crickets. The song appreciates a girl who most enjoys simple things, appreciates truly good people, and sees the beauty in us all. 

Bryan’s fourth studio album had four features, which were true collaborations that displayed the best of Bryan and his guests. 

“Hey Driver” features The War and Treaty, a blues-country-rock-soul band composed of wife and husband Tanya Blount-Trotter and Michael Trotter Jr. This song deviates from Bryan’s usual Appalachian country-rock, with a blues and jazz-reminiscent sound that features piano—something unusual for Bryan. The lyrics romanticize southern culture and the way that people hit the road to escape a lonely, tiring world. “The boys are gambling with more than just their cards/with their bottles and their drugs and the bibles in their hearts,” he sings.

“Holy Roller” features Sierra Ferrell, a nomadic singer-songwriter from West Virginia. Ferrell and Bryan sound incredible together, as her high and dreamy voice complements his low, gravelly one. This is a beautiful love song, featuring a little acoustic guitar solo. 

“I Remember Everything” features Kacey Musgraves. While listening to this song, I just could not stop writing down lyric after lyric. While “Holy Roller” tells one story with two voices, “I Remember Everything” is more of a conversation, with Bryan and Musgraves trading verses. This is a deeply woeful track about lost love, and it brought to mind Bryan’s very recent breakup. Part of Bryan’s talent comes from his ability to inject true emotion to fictional stories, and this song provides a perfect example—especially since Bryan prefers Chevrolets and the narrator drives a Ford. His lyrics capture the experience perfectly without necessarily describing his own experience, which is an intriguing and rare quality of musical storytelling. 

“Spotless” features The Lumineers. This final feature adds another layer of brilliance to an already star-studded album and discusses the fallibility of human nature. Bryan and the Lumineers’ lead singer Wesley Schultz share choruses and trade off fast-moving, poetic verses. A favorite lyric of mine is Schultz’s, “Met a man in New York City/Told me ain’t as pretty/As a perfect day/They’ll chase for all their days.” I also loved Bryan’s line, “People die a thousand times to get to who they are/We were praying to the heavens on a late train car/Your heart knows deeper seasons than my eyes ever will/I’m a self-destructive landslide if you wanna be the hill.”

Zach Bryan is currently on his Burn, Burn, Burn Tour across America, selling out stadiums from Arizona to Tennessee. Bryan’s musical career began when he was honorably discharged from the Navy due to his music’s online popularity. He has since released 25 total albums, EPs, and singles. Bryan’s self-titled album is the culmination of astronomical musical growth and the wisdom that comes from nearly three decades of life and loss. Each track introduces a new lyrical theme or musical concept, and I can comfortably describe it as one of my favorite albums. 

Amala is a senior at M-A, and this is her second year in journalism. She enjoys using journalism to explore education policy and highlight extraordinary individuals in the community. She is also a part of M-A’s Leadership-ASB, and spends her free time at the beach.

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