Zach Bryan
Elisabeth


4.5
superb

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
June 13th, 2020 | 93 replies


Release Date: 05/08/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Guitars and emotions

I remember how ecstatic I was when my parents bought me my first smart phone. I was a bit late to the boom of micro-technology, so the eventual possession of items such as iPhones, bluetooth, fire sticks, and echo dots filled me with the sort of excitement that could have only been preceded by deprivation. A lot has changed since my teenage years, though. Now I’m over thirty, and I find myself confusing my servant robots (Alexa, Siri). I work within a massive technology corporation and deal with computers every hour of every day. When I’m at home, anything from dimming a light to changing the thermostat can be accomplished via voice command. Oddly enough, the more I immerse myself in the technological spoils of our age…the more I want out. Media in all of its forms has saturated the world and I can’t seem to adequately escape it. Sometimes, I find myself desiring a life that’s less lavish and digitized. I want something to feel real again.

What I love about Zach Bryan is that he’s possibly the most genuine, down-to-earth musician I’ve ever heard. He’s turned down several major labels and high profile producers to continue writing music with his rag-tag collection of hometown friends. His debut album, DeAnn, which paid tribute to his late mother, was recorded in a Florida Airbnb as he strapped mattresses against the wall to reduce noise complaints. Elisabeth was recorded using his laptop in a horse barn behind his house. Make no mistake, though: the absence of labels, merchandise, and professional equipment is intentional. Bryan loves his music, family, and hometown – and he wants nothing to do with writing a number one hit. He even directly rebukes the idea on ‘Heading South’ (“they’ll never understand that boy and his kind, ‘cause all they comprehend is a fucking dollar sign”) and ‘Me and Mine’ (“we started this thing grinnin' boys, I think we've gotta run – the radio man came to fuck it up as he boasts about number ones”). Zach Bryan is the less is more axiom personified, and when it comes to authenticity, he’s the real deal. His music is the perfect escape from a society that has become more sensationalized, digitized, and polarized than ever before.

Bryan isn’t the only artist who has taken this approach, but very few have sounded as good as him while doing it. The bare-bones tactic only works if there’s an abundance of vocal, instrumental, and lyrical talent – and Bryan embodies it all. His voice recalls a shyer, raspier, and pitchier Jason Isbell. His acoustic guitars rattle and echo with the haunting air of Elliott Smith. He writes from the heart, with lyrics about being fast in love (“hope you know the depths I'd go would be insane, for a girl like you who needs trust but needs freedom / who wants love but would be fine on her own / for a girl like you with her daddy's mannerisms / and a soft smile makes the distance less alone / in a world that's full of wanting what is next, I'll stay here with you, Elisabeth”) where Bryan also ties them into memories of his mother, DeAnn (“my mama, she must trust you through and through – ‘cause she left me with a girl like you”). The wondrous thing about Zach’s unspoiled music is that his story has been allowed to unfurl sans interference, and in listening to DeAnn and Elisabeth consecutively, you’ll pick up on callbacks and parallels that make the experience twice as rewarding. It happens throughout Elisabeth – including ‘From a Lover’s Point of View’, where Zach sings about himself through his partner’s eyes, “you don't have to drink tonight…I'll be prayin' for you and pinin’ for you and hopin’ you get some rest / but from a lover's point of view, it’s all been hard to watch at best…you really got to decide – are you gonna be a good man to me or die the way your mother died?” When you consider that DeAnn died from alcoholism, the entire song transforms into a heartbreaking plea. It’s the sort of emotional impact that could only come from context, something that Bryan’s rich lyrics and open-book life affords us.

Musically, there’s nothing about Elisabeth designed to captivate. It’s foggy, lo-fi, and predominantly acoustic. There are times when you’ll have to fight through the bedroom production to get at the heart of a song – a losing battle for many, but one worth waging for the few who have the patience to endure eighteen straight acoustic Americana ballads. Almost comically for those who may be approaching Elisabeth with no prior experience, it’s actually more sonically fleshed out than its predecessor DeAnn, which was even rawer and less adorned. Here, Bryan – however rarely – accents his songwriting with a lone harmonica (which really adds to the barren ‘Messed Up Kid’ verse “I guess old men on the street prove that time really does fly”), or the layered vocals and jaunty pianos of the closing ‘Revival’ – an ode to partying with the guys: “Lord forgive us my boys and me…baptize me in a bottle of Beam and put Johnny on the vinyl.” With a gentler stroke, you can hear the crackling of a fire behind the unrequited love of ‘Loom’, where Bryan opens his heart with a simple but pointed message (“how would I say that the man you're laying with is not the man that should be laying there?”) and paints a harrowing image of slinking away in defeat: “while you're dancing with the charmers in the room, I'll slip out that door like I have a time before – and just let that lost loving loom.” These sparse moments of accentuating melody help bring Elisabeth to life, whereas its core is deeply burrowed in Bryan’s love-struck but oft-pained inflections, floating on the unwavering strums of an old acoustic guitar.

Elisabeth is an experience that requires your immersive attention to detail, as well as repeated listens to fully appreciate. After all, you don’t pick up on the nuances of someone’s personality – as well as all of their memories and life story – simply by going out for one drink. You’ll need to court this album, but the payoff is enormous when it finally clicks. In this way – along with its bare assembly and raw production – Elisabeth is sort of the antithesis of modern society. No songs here are immediate enough to be on a Spotify-curated playlist. There are few souls in existence that will hear this record once and proclaim it an immediate favorite. It’s not catchy or aesthetically pleasing. None of its songs are ever going to chart. The experience is closer to reading someone’s journal – it takes time and effort, but by the time you finish, you feel like you know the person. That’s Zach Bryan’s brand: both DeAnn and Elisabeth are immensely private records, and he’s simply putting himself out there for those who care to listen. No labels, no frills, no strings attached. Just guitars and emotions.




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user ratings (19)
3.8
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
June 13th 2020


35310 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Been listening to this since it dropped in May and I'm absolutely in love. It took quite a while to grow, but now it's an AOTY contender. His 2019 debut DeAnn is also an incredible release from Zach that is more than worth your time. This is review #499 - I'll see you all for the grand finale down the road a bit.

Digging: Westelaken - Westelaken

MercySeat
June 13th 2020


277 Comments


Great review! There should be a #500 betting pool or something.

Digging: Blind Guardian - Imaginations from the Other Side

someone
June 13th 2020


790 Comments


great stuff, will check. Styx review for 500?

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
June 13th 2020


1370 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Whoaaaa never expected a Zach Bryan review on here! This one doesn’t quite hit the heights of Deann for me, but this kid is special. The production is raw, but it fits so well. I’m always so torn between wanting to see what he could do with professional work or just wanting him to do his own thing.



Love that last paragraph. The wild thing is that he’s one of the most successful non-mainstream country acts of the past couple years just because of how talented he is. A true picture of what “internet viral success” can do and it hasn’t changed the guy at all

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 13th 2020


35310 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks all.

dmathias, I feel the same way. On the one hand, pairing him with a top-tier producer and/or label could yield a timeless masterpiece; on the other hand, his music is incredibly authentic and knowing he's "the only cook in the kitchen" makes me love it even more.

Lucman
June 13th 2020


4563 Comments


It's kind of become a tradition of mine to listen to a country record every Sunday so I'll slide this on today.

Digging: The Veils - Nux Vomica

Nocte
Contributing Reviewer
June 14th 2020


12771 Comments


that summary defines sput tier.

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 14th 2020


35310 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

It does, indeed - although it's been applied to a country record, which is treason.

Nocte
Contributing Reviewer
June 14th 2020


12771 Comments


I hope you have an indie/country champion waiting in sput's wings.

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 14th 2020


35310 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Half the staff reviews indie. Atari, Chan, and dmathias are the other 3/4 horsemen of the country apocalypse.

(oh and Boney, duh)

Nocte
Contributing Reviewer
June 14th 2020


12771 Comments


Did I say country? What I meant was black/death : ]

NorthernSkylark
June 14th 2020


10264 Comments


that's a lot of songs for a country album, but i'll check

Digging: Ray LaMontagne - Trouble

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 15th 2020


35310 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This keeps growing on me. I love almost every song now and slightly prefer it to DeAnn, his debut. More people should give this repeated listens; it's worth the investment. If anyone is looking for a snippet and doesn't want to put in the time for all 18 tracks, I'd recommend listening to "Messed Up Kid", "Revival", "Loom", "Mine", and "Elisabeth". They're my top 5 tracks thus far although every song has personality that makes it endearing to me. I could see this becoming a 5 someday, it's that good.

NorthernSkylark
June 15th 2020


10264 Comments


sure, but would lana dig this?

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 15th 2020


35310 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

probably not

it's not very ~aesthetically pleasing~

NorthernSkylark
June 15th 2020


10264 Comments


cool

think i'm gonna go first half today, second half tomorrow unless i really dig it

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 15th 2020


35310 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

2nd half is my favorite half fwiw

NorthernSkylark
June 15th 2020


10264 Comments


patience son

NorthernSkylark
June 15th 2020


10264 Comments


cause all they comprehend is a fucking dollar sign *yeah! tell em boyo*

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 15th 2020


35310 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

nope

listen now



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