No rest for the weary, and no time to ruminate and digest the 34 tracks that Zach Bryan released just a few months ago via his massive #1 album. American grief. Make room on your plate, because here are nine more in what Zach Bryan calls an EP titled summer blues. No, Zach isn’t covering the old Eddie Cochran tune of the same name. It also shows no decline in quality due to the prolific nature of its production. He just continues to stay in the state of flux he started his career in and continues to deliver and challenge the conventional wisdom of music production.
For Zach Bryan, words are his world. They come falling from the sky, seeping from the ground, overwhelming him with poetry, rhyme and lyrical hooks, while his keen sense of insight constantly catalogs the meaning of the moments for future use in song. This young man’s rush of words is overflowing, limitless and effervescent, and his soul is the vessel that captures them all. It’s Zach Bryan’s singular gift, and what makes him utterly unique even among some of the most accomplished and productive songwriters. For those suffering from writer’s block, his carnival of excess seems unfair, if not impossible. That’s why jealousy is a component of some of Zach Bryan’s criticisms.
summer blues feels like a cousin or the continuation of American grief in how the songs and production are approached – some with a full band sound, others more stripped down. Some like to point out that Zach Bryan really isn’t that “country.” This is true to some extent; he is a singer/songwriter. But there are country elements in almost everything he does, whether in the instrumentation or the lyrical themes. The opening song “Quittin’ Time” is brought to life by both banjo and fiddle, and the blue-collar story that follows a steelworker, a soldier and a roofer through their toiling day is quite done in the vein of country music.
But no matter Zach Bryan’s label, it was the songs that lit a fire whose flames reached the pinnacle of the country mainstream. summer blues throw some more logs at that inferno, then fuel it with accelerator. “Oklahoma Smokeshow” shows the skillful use of Zach Bryan’s character to tell gripping stories that feel relevant to all of us. His song casts are unique enough to be compelling, yet similar enough with people we know or once knew – or ourselves – to be eerily applicable to our own lives.
Zach Bryan steps out and lives his young life, and like a sponge, absorbs all of those most powerful emotional moments, from utter euphoria to crippling self-doubt. While many of us may experience these moments as fleeting, he focuses on them. It is his muse. Because it is in these intense moments that we feel most alive. Then he contextualizes them in a way few songwriters are capable of, like in the song “Twenty So” on the new album, zooming out to understand that no matter how much emotions or decisions may seem daunting, in the future you will cherish them. moment, and think about it fondly.
This element of wisdom and Zach’s ability to pull lyrical hooks seemingly out of thin air that then sink right into your soul is why his songwriting feels so vital. This songgroup is as good as any that Zach Bryan has released, and these songgroups have installed it right behind Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs as the greatest thing in country music, and virtually emission-free. mainstream radio or other mainstream opportunities.
summer blues doesn’t come without some trepidation, which is inevitable since nothing Zach Bryan is slow-cooked. “Jamie” with its frequent touring opener and alumnus of SCM Album of the Year Charles Wesley Godwin is one of the strongest tracks on the new album, but the songwriting and approach were definitely not for a duet, they just kind of made it that way. Zach’s phrasing and performance on “Us Then” just feels a bit tired and unrehearsed. “Matt and Audie” is a good history song, but also a common trope, which is a bit unusual for Bryan whose originality of ideas is one of his strengths. It’s the stories contained in so many of these songs, including, if not especially, songs like “Jamie,” that make the appetite for more Zach Bryan so insatiable.
Cherish these moments, Zach Bryan fans. A bumper harvest has arrived. It’s Zach Bryan’s year, and it’s Zach Bryan’s time. But you never know when drought and famine might set in. Ask fans for Hank Williams III, who set three records in 2011, two more in 2013, and nothing but crickets since. Zach Bryan has previously said his current tour could be his last. Of course, him and Barbra Streisand. But you’re never quite sure when an artist will exploit, either quality stuff or entirely. So savor this moment in music, because it belongs to Zach Bryan.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8.3/10)
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