Review Summary: A beautiful heartbreak
Humbleness. Humble beginnings and humbler stories. That’s always been the defining feature of Zach Bryan. Music has always been more of a passion for him; an art rather than a career. In fact, he’s even refused to call himself a musician at times, just a man and his guitar, voice, and emotions. Between writing lyrics during his deployments and composing behind the barracks, Zach Bryan made music his emotional release. It was something raw and personal, something that was entirely unique to himself. With his first album, DeAnn
, Bryan spent two days in a random AirBnB with a few friends and recorded his stories with nothing more than his voice and his guitar. With such a barebones project dedicated to his late mother, the emotion seeped through with each vocal phrase and weeping guitar passage. Since then, Zach Bryan has grown. Sure, some of this growth has been in terms of popularity with “Heading South” from his second album, Elisabeth
, gaining mass appeal, but there’s something far deeper. Lyrically and musically, he has grown in his practice. The raw, emotional performance still exists, but it feels almost happier and matured.
feels like a collection of personal stories about Zach Bryan’s life. A little bit of him seeps through each song, leaving his heart on his sleeve for all to see and observe. Yet, there’s so much more to the record than just that. Each story is highly personal, yet entirely relatable. The pain of losing family and friends, the joys of loving someone, the grief of letting someone go, the triumphs of growing stronger; they are all his stories, but they are also ours. There’s something so powerful about his performance that invites us to experience his stories with him and allows us to connect them with our own lives. Perhaps it’s his gripping vocals and captivating musicianship that has an immense allure to it. Or maybe it’s his lyrical narrative driven by heartfelt passages that enthralls. Whatever it is, American Heartbreak
is the story of a man’s life shared for others to see, full of tales that others can relate to on an individual level.
I guess I should acknowledge the elephant in the room: American Heartbreak
is a monstrous album to say the least. Sitting at 34-tracks and totaling just over 2 hours of music, Zach Bryan’s newest effort is a bold offering for the genre with its massive length. It’s a daring attempt, and it’s one that works. It’s hard to look beyond the daunting time needed to listen to this record, but American Heartbreak
has so much to dissect that it never feels overly long or tedious. With each passing song, there is just enough sonic diversity that every track has something new to latch onto while maintaining a cohesive progression of musicianship. While tracks like “Morning Time” and “Late July” embody the stripped-down style of Zach Bryan’s previous work, much of American Heartbreak
shows a more refined side, introducing more vibrant guitar work, atmospheric strings, and acoustic drums, similar to the style found on his previous EP, Quiet, Heavy Dreams
. He pushes his sound forward, embracing more upbeat song structures with a more country-tinge in the cowboy love story “If She Wants a Cowboy” and the youthful fury of “Whiskey Fever.” Additionally, Zach Bryan introduces more electrically driven guitar work in tracks like “Ninth Cloud,” bringing more of a punch to his style. Each track has its own nuances and subtleties that are too numerous to write in detail, providing a fresh take with each song and making American Heartbreak
immensely replayable. Yet, far more captivating is Zach Bryan’s impressive lyricism as he constructs an enriching narrative of his life.
is narratively driven, combining multiple themes of life: from love and family to heartbreak and loss. Each tale intertwines with the next, weaving a web of a life story full of pain, maturing, and endearment. Zach Bryan progresses his way through each story with a performance that exudes emotion, leaving each track open for all to see and relate to. American Heartbreak
is a story told by a man who wants to share it with others, so that they too can experience this coming-of-age story with him. It is more than just a personal expression; it’s an expression of everyone who feels the same way.
“I hope your sunsets always bleed red/And your family's always well fed/And the song stuck in your head/Plays all night”
Love fills the lyrical pages of American Heartbreak
, yet it’s never a sappy love story full of cliche. No, these endearing poems feel more like longing and hope rather than exclamations of burning passion. The beautiful words contained within hold a tinge of hopeful desire, sometimes wanting the best for the other while battling the need to let go. It’s a bittersweet taste of love with the nagging sense of moving on to help the ones you love. But that’s not the end of the story.
“You went back home in your sleep last night”
With every love comes a heartbreak. But it’s not the heartbreak of losing love, but rather losing a loved one; a person. Pain and grief bury deep into the narrative with Zach Bryan revealing the death of friends and family in raw lyrical recollection. These words pierce the heart, as they battle with the loss of loved ones and mourn the loss of friends. Yet there’s something far deeper than simply facing heartbreak. Each moment of grief is contrasted by a sense of joyful growth. Despite the death in “Billy Stay,” the desire for beautiful memories in the afterlife outweighs the pain and grief of those left behind.
“Enjoyin' all the pain of younger years”
details the duality of life in growth and understanding. The younger years of life are emphasized by the pain of growth and the enjoyment of the many pleasures of youth. Zach Bryan narrates the chaos and intensity of living without a care in the world, moving from bar to bar and running recklessly with friends in their adolescence. Yet this wild youthfulness leads to deeper growth. The progression of “Whiskey Fever” expresses how the younger years led to the desire to return to such a life free of worries after dealing with the torment of older life, primarily his experiences in the military. These days of youth are a gateway to much more.
“And I will realize, after all of this time that some day was always just right here”
Much of the resolve in American Heartbreak
lies in reminiscing and hindsight. After all the love affairs, the heart-wrenching breakups, and the growing pains of getting older, sitting back and looking at all that has happened is where true maturity lies; and this is what Zach Bryan nails. This idea feels like a culmination of all his work throughout the years, coalescing into a final resolution of recognizing that everything was always right there. This maturity is embodied through both the increased lyrical depth and amplified songwriting composition. Despite all the hardships and loss, when you look back on what you’ve endured, you realize it was for the best and can feel your growth.
This finality is embraced within the concluding poem, “This Road I Know.” I find it necessary to observe this track alone to reveal the true ending of American Heartbreak
. Although it feels like a paradoxical mess on the surface, with weird contradictions of knowing and not knowing, lost but found, and knowing the destination but not the journey, there is something special about this poem. With many callbacks to previous songs like the road in “Something in the Orange” and the loved ones of “From Austin,” Zach Bryan seems to provide a moment of closure, tying this narrative together with a closing thought. All the pain has led to this point, a point in which even though you don’t know where you are, you feel at home now that you’ve been reconciled with the loved ones you’ve lost, the friendships you took for granted, and the maturity of growing older. You may not know the journey, but you do know where it ends, much like the road that leads to a place you know through a land you don’t. Although “This Road I Know” feels like a journey to death, it acts as a gracious warning for us to embrace what we have now..
is the product of a man’s ambition to write music as an emotional release and a way of telling his story. With such a lengthy record saturated with emotional material, it truly is a marvelous feat that it nevers runs itself into the ground. Zach Bryan’s most ambitious project to date pays off in a magnificent way; a way that is sure to highlight his career for years to come. American Heartbreak
is more than just a man and his guitar, it’s a deeply connected story that resonates with each individual who embraces the enriching tales within.
“I don’t know where I am, but I know exactly where I am”