Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Album Review: Zach Bryan - Zach Bryan

Zach Bryan 
***and1/2 out of *****

The fourth full-length studio release from singer-songwriter Zach Bryan is a self titled effort that looks to focus his career with a strong set of narrative tunes that touch on a range of Americana sounds rooted in the country music tradition, but not confined to the genres rigid rules.

There is a lot here to digest, as if Bryan had a flood of ideas and put them all out there to sort through as the sixteen tracks discuss relationships from all angles, lots of late nights in bars, too much booze and not enough love; throughout Bryan plays with melodramatic moods, restrained vocals and honest thoughts. 

The whole thing begins via a very Woody Guthrie sounding poem as Bryan rambles and tries to set the mood before the fuzzy, rocky, Drive-By Truckers influenced "Overtime". While there are quiet a few direct influences here, perhaps none is larger than Jason Isbell who Bryan seems to be using as a muse throughout the self-titled record as he evolves as a songwriter. "Summertime's Close" complete with odd last line, the auto biographical sounding "Ticking" and the unique bass and fuzzed up guitar work of "Tourniquet" are all reminiscent of phases of Isbell and the 400 Unit; all also happen to be excellent tracks on their own.

Other highlights are "East Side of Sorrow" which blends twangy Americana and rock with galloping banjo, horns, and drums while "El Dorado" seems to be towing between genre lines excellently before wrapping up right when it might get truly going. That sense of just missing something truly special is here often as well though, "Jake's Piano - Long Island" is a tune that reaches for epic heights only to be let down by sparse lyrics while "Tradesman" feels on the cusp of a breakthrough mixing classic picking with modern sounds, but is overdone with echoing vocals. Both efforts show Bryan's desire and range, but also the need to keep pumping away. 

One area he doesn't need much help from is choosing of guests as all who show up here support the main artist well. The easy swelling duet of "Holy Roller" with Sierra Ferrell is the best of the bunch but they are all solid, with the fluid, rolling "Spotless (feat. The Lumineers)", the down and out heart wrenching duet with Kacey Musgraves on "I Remember Everything" and the slightly poppy "Hey Driver (feat The War and Treaty)" all work well.      

Bryan wraps this album up with an instant theme song from the Oologah, OK native, as he delivers an honest accounting with the straight ahead ballad "Oklahoma Son". When an artist already into their career releases a self titled album it usually acts as a reset, and Zach Bryan is doing that now, moving onward and upward from his more traditional country roots. This mostly successful transitional record is at times moving, affecting, and spiritually satisfying.     
Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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