And honestly, it’s hard to even know where to begin with Zach Bryan’s 34-song, debut studio album.
I’ll start off by saying that, if for some reason you don’t like the production or sound of this record, you probably just don’t like professional studio production.
One of the things that jumped out to me the most listening to it the first time is the fact that he managed to stay as true as possible to that acoustic, rough, lo-fi sound that put him on the map and his fans initially fell in love with.
And he recorded the whole album at Electric Lady studios in New York City instead of at a studio in Nashville, which he noted himself in a lengthy Instagram post was in order to ensure it “didn’t sound like anything else.”
The whole post is worth a read, and you get some great insight into the meaning behind the music and some of his artistic decisions:
Zach’s goal with this album was to “rip your heart out and put it back together all in the same go round,” and he covered a hell of a lot of ground that I’ve never seen in this era of country music for a debut album… it’s extremely impressive, to say the very least:
“I would say true love of anything is supposed to rip your heart out and put it back together all in the same go round. This album to me is all the trials we face day-in and day out and I wrote all the stories on it hoping someone, somewhere might relate or some kid might pick up an instrument and replicate it in an effort to be an artist.
Some songs are sad, some are happy, some are hopeful, and some are hopeless, all of them mean something different to me and I pray they mean something to someone else.
‘American Heartbreak’ is my effort at trying to explain what being a 26-year-old man in America is like. There’s love, loss, revelry, resentment, and forgiveness all wrapped into one piece of work. Thank you, guys, for listening, always.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the level of excitement for an album like I’ve seen for this one, and the streaming numbers promise to be absolutely insane. He’s already had a big charting debut with “Something in the Orange”, and will likely take all of the country charts by storm (quite possibly folk, and with this massive new release, as well.
And now, I’m going to get to some of my early favorites on American Heartbreak, which was no easy job to narrow down whatsoever. I mean, can you think of any other artist in recent years from any genre to come out with such a lengthy, lofty debut? It’s quite a task, but if anyone was up for it, it’s Zach.
There were a few I immediately jotted down in my notes while listening that I already know are going to be fan-favorites. “Cold Damn Vampires,” “Younger Years” (I love the “Levi jean queen” lyric on that one), “Darling,” “Sober Side of Sorry,” and “High Beams” sound like immediate stand-outs.
But for my extremely short list, I picked my top three songs (and a poem), that gripped me right away and I’ve already had on repeat.
“Whiskey Fever” is a solo write by Zach, and of course, the second you hear “whiskey river, take me” you’re reminded of Willie Nelson’s iconic 1978 hit “Whiskey River.”
This track is a honky-tonkin’ boot-stomper that is pure classic country. It sounds like it belongs in a different decade, but tells the story of a man who just can’t put down the bottle, leaving a path of destruction in his wake.
“Half Grown” is another solo write by Zach, and is a much slower song where he confronts the fact that a lot of issues we all experience in our adult relationships stem from a much deeper place and things we haven’t dealt with from childhood.
I think it’s different and unique, and the subject matter here is something almost everyone can relate to. He touches on topics that aren’t covered so directly in country music much these days, so to me, it’s a breathe of fresh, honest, authentic air:
“When I grab you by the hand you hesitate, With subtle inclination to tell a man straight, Your sister was a savior and your mother is a saint, Sometimes a woman is the sum of all the things her father ain’t,
Men are just the sum of all the things their mothers did, They’ll spend their lives searching for the love they had as kids, My vices ain’t a place to replace a loving home, You can’t expect a harvest where the fields half grown”
“The Road I Know”
“This Road I Know” is the closing track on the album, and it’s actually a poem and not a song. It’s a really interesting choice to close out this lengthy record with a poem, but I love it.
He paints some beautiful imagery of where he is in his life and how it’s all come together for this project and time in particular:
“There’s this flash I get off; a fever dream or a vision of sorts, Most times late at night, and I haven’t found out why, But I know exactly why, I’m on this road and I hear gravel underneath me, and I feel it too, I don’t know where I am but I know exactly where I am It’s dark, it’s really dark, and the car is warm and somehow I can feel how cold the night is. I don’t know where the road leads but I know exactly where it ends.”
“If She Wants A Cowboy”
“If She Wants A Cowboy” is my absolute favorite on the whole record at the moment, and it’s really not even close. I love every single thing about it, and it’s definitely one of the more up tempo songs on the tracklist, as well. The shade he throws at Nashville, the production, the melody, the sentiment, the lyrics… it all just works.
It’s another solo write which opens with Zach talking directly into the mic, and he holds nothing back:
“I got a song for y’all. Interesting. Actual writing. Something y’all ain’t even heard of.”
Inject that into my veins, please.
At certain points, there’s added auto tune on his voice, and he notes “he’s never heard a song this good…” and that if the girl he likes wants a cowboy, “he’ll cowboy the best.” He goes out of way to learn how to be a true cowboy, only to find out she actually wants a guy from Nashville…
It’s funny, but it’s smart, and that’s what makes it so quality. I feel like half the record executives in Nashville would have no clue what this song even means and that’s the real kicker. Ironically, it closes with Zach saying they should send the tune to country radio as a single, which is just perfect:
“That was it, throw her on the damn radio.”
Mocking Nashville and doing it 100x better. Genius. It’s obviously never going to country radio as a single because of the true meaning layered in the lyrics, but damn I wish it could be because it’s truly fantastic.
It can be difficult to pull off a satirical song like that without it seeming overly cheesy, but he nailed it, and I don’t think I’ll be taking it off repeat anytime soon.
Of course, there’s so much more where all of that came from, and I highly encourage you to listen to the whole album from top to bottom (the way it was intended to be) to get the full story.
It’s been so fun as a music fan to watch Zach go from filming grainy videos on his iPhone back in 2019 while he was still serving in the Navy, to releasing his debut studio album. I don’t have kids yet, but I can only imagine it’s a similar feeling to sending your firstborn off to school for the first day of 1st grade.
Because inevitably, with his first official studio album now out in the world, his fan base will only continue to grow (and he’ll grow as an artist), as more and more people discover his incredible music, which is a good thing. But if you’ve been a fan since the beginning, this release means just a little bit more.
You’ve heard us say it a million times before, but he’s a total superstar and poised to remain at the forefront of country music (and beyond) for a long time. An artist like Zach that resonates so genuinely and profoundly doesn’t come along very often.
American Heartbreak is easily one of the albums of the year, so give it a spin, download some tunes, and enjoy the 33 songs (and poem), that we now have as apart of his official studio era.
This record embodies the best parts of what country music is and should be, and the great news is, it’s only just the beginning for Zach…
And the Oologah, Oklahoma native is headed for the moon.
American Heartbreak tracklist:
1. Late July
2. Something In The Orange Z&E
3. Heavy Eyes
4. Mine Again
5. Happy Instead
6. Right Now The Best
7. The Outskirts
8. Younger Years
9. Cold Damn Vampires
11. She’s Alright
12. You are My Sunshine
14. Ninth Cloud
15. Oklahoma City
16. Sun to Me
17. Highway Boys
19. Billy Stay
20. Sober Side of Sorry
21. High Beams
22. The Good I’ll Do
23. Someday (Maggie’s)
24. Poems and Closing Time
25. From Austin
26. If She Wants a Cowboy
27. Corinthians (Proctor’s)
28. Open The Gate
29. Half Grown
30. No Cure
31. ’68 Fastback
33. Morning Time
34.This Road I Know