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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Zach Bryan remains authentic in self-titled fourth studio release

Elizabeth Larson

He’s topping charts and selling out city after city, but Zach Bryan focuses on the simple things in his fourth studio album, a self-titled project released on Aug. 25. 

Bryan puts into words the indescribable feeling of existing on the outskirts, in the parts of America overlooked and undervalued, but integral to the being of those who live there. He bemoans the draws of modern life, longing instead for simplicity found in these places. 

This is not a new theme for Bryan, who has long romanticized a quiet, bucolic existence. But following the 2022 release of his third studio album, “American Heartbreak” and its lead single “Something in the Orange,” his fame has skyrocketed – and with it, seemingly, his desire to escape it. 

In track 14, “Tradesman,” Bryan wishes to trade his career for one of physical labor, where success is evident and commitment is to the work itself. He sings, “So give me somethin’ I can’t fake / That rich boys can’t manipulate … Wanna sweat like hell, throw a hammer down / And know the old feelin’ of a five o’clock smile / And know I didn’t take no easy way out.”

It’s the allure of a long, open road and an engagement to the present that he’s chasing. A cup of coffee in the morning or shoes by the door, as he references in track 15, “Smaller Acts.” Bryan preaches the preservation of the parts of life lost in an ever-growing war for attention fueled by the internet and social media – human details that touch the soul in meaningful ways beyond the everpresent dopamine loops of the 21st century.  

The album comes across exactly how he intended: authentic. It’s not a curated folder of radio hits or the typical country staples of beer and trucks. Rather, Bryan journals experience through song. Raw emotion is tangible in every track. Tone and meaning are imbued as much through Bryan’s gritty vocals as his heartfelt writing. 

The creative process and vision is visible throughout much of the release — which bleeds heavy influence from Bryan’s travels on this summer’s Burn, Burn, Burn tour.  

The premise of track five, “Hey Driver,” centers around his internal battle with modern life while on tour. 

The opening verse of “Hey driver, pull on over / I’m in a fight with God / This Carolina shoulder / Seems the place I’m gettin’ off” went viral in May when Bryan released a video performing the song quite literally on the side of a road. 

In track seven, “Ticking,” Bryan wrestles with a lost love and fame again through the lens of life on the road with the lines, “And everyone thinks they know me now / In these close-minded leave-me towns,” “There’s wheels running down the interstate” and “Philly by the morning and Ohio by the night.” The latter two locations were back-to-back tour stops, painting a clear picture of when and where he wrote the song. 

Like on “American Heartbreak,” Bryan pens a poem on his latest release – titled “Fear and Friday’s,” which focuses on contentment in the present and beauty in the everyday. But more broadly, the opening track – and the album at large – showcases the incredible writing talent of the 27-year-old. 

His work has garnered comparisons to many legendary songwriters in recent years. Putting him on a pedestal among the best this century, a list that includes Jason Isbell, who Bryan has called his “songwriting idol” and who has shared praise for the Oklahoman. 

Bryan has become popular fast, amassing nearly 17 million monthly listeners on Spotify to date. But his greatest strength in that rise has been not letting fame change his music. 

His authenticity has remained, as this album proved. For as much as Bryan has personally evolved over the years, he’s still (in his own words) “the fightin’, fiendin’, Okie son. The restless, reckless, hopeful one.”

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Cameron Levasseur
Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor

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