Zach Bryan
The Great American Bar Scene


3.5
great

Review

by Sowing STAFF
July 5th, 2024 | 65 replies


Release Date: 07/04/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: I don't know where I am, but I know exactly where I am

Zach Bryan’s meteoric rise from unknown troubadour to stadium-packing country music superstar has been both incredible and strange to witness. Just four years ago, he was writing lines like “they tell me I can sell my soul for a dream and a couple of shows…badly written songs next to horses' shit is what an Okie boy prefers” on the rawly produced Elisabeth, but now it seems like fame has found him regardless of his intentions. If you’ve been around since DeAnn, you might’ve begun to feel slightly alienated by his sudden stardom; while nobody will fault the man for being successful at what he does, the disparity between his current reality (“mama, I made a million dollars on accident”) versus what he once represented is jarring regardless of how much you enjoy his music. Zach Bryan is also doing his best to stave off diminishing returns after having released over two hundred songs in a span of five years. What once sounded charmingly unique has started to feel recycled, which mattered less on the diverse and entertaining American Heartbreak but managed to rear its ugly head on last year’s drab self-titled affair. Two things can be said about Zach Bryan with absolute truth in 2024: he’s one of the hardest working musicians out there, and it’s starting to work to his own detriment.

The Great American Bar Scene sees Bryan once again settle into something of a familiar groove. He tries throwing John Mayer and Bruce Springsteen features into the mix, but the results are ultimately the same: more slow-to-mid tempo country crooners with results-may-vary emotional resonance. The album is unsurprisingly at its best when Bryan injects fresh ideas and more energy into his formulaic approach, with the rollicking guitar solo on ‘Oak Island’ serving as the album’s peak excitement while the mini-gospel section on ‘Towers’ and startlingly gruff shouts of ‘Northern Thunder’ also register as victories over stagnation. Wrinkles like these are exactly what Bryan needs more of, because when he’s blending his proven approach with even the smallest of distinguishing flourishes, the man is unstoppable. When he trudges forward on downtrodden acoustic autopilot, though – as he does for large swaths of The Great American Bar Scene – it becomes a little too easy to tune out. The melodies, lyrics, and overarching emotions – even if they were once significant – all feel heard and experienced to death. That’s the problem with churning out so much music in such a short time frame – it’s not that listeners expect every single country song to be groundbreaking and wholly refreshing, it’s that the capacity to feel the same level of poignancy over and over again will eventually wane.

In Zach’s case, he finds himself at a crossroads here. His songs are still well-constructed and lyrically affecting, which are traits that are unlikely to ever change and that will always provide his music with a high floor. The problem is that with each release like Zach Bryan or The Great American Bar Scene, these comparatively plodding efforts that bank on emotional investment on the consumer’s part with little to no variation from his end, another layer of novelty erodes. It leads to more questions than answers: is Zach Bryan’s work ethic leading to an output so prolific that he’s burning through ideas too quickly? Can Bryan – a life-loving, beer-drinking, and self-admitted simple man – vary his art enough to appeal to a fickle mass? This is a gifted artist with a clear knack for writing relatable music, so the smart money remains on his side – however, the onus is now on him to prove that he’s more than a one trick pony.



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user ratings (47)
3.5
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
Gameofmetal
Emeritus
July 5th 2024


11641 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Nice rev, liking the album so far but hurting for some big standout tracks. Liked Towers and the Springsteen track quite a bit. Could definitely stand to see him slow down and pare down.

Hawks
July 5th 2024


90597 Comments


Jamming this tonight for sure. Sick review.

AmericanFlagAsh
July 5th 2024


13480 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Okay this is no American Heartbreak but I like it more than the last album

AmericanFlagAsh
July 5th 2024


13480 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

28, Oak Island, Memphis; the Blues, Sandpaper, and Pink Skies are so good

Sowing
Moderator
July 5th 2024


44137 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Oak Island, Towers, and Northern Thunder are my top ones. Most tracks here are very enjoyable, but they don't do much for me emotionally nor do they feel as memorable as anything from American Hearrtbreak or prior. I like this slightly more than his self titled, which I also gave a 3.5, so I could see this maybe growing to a 4 someday.

bigweinerdon
July 5th 2024


2724 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Could see this one being a grower. My faves are the title track, American Nights and Pink Skies. Can’t get enough of that harmonica.

The self titled grew a heavy amount and now I love that album

Sowing
Moderator
July 5th 2024


44137 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

There's definitely something cozy about this that could keep on growing. My main three issues with Bryan's music at the moment, as reflected in the review, are (1) he churns out so much material so quickly that it feels like he's running out of ideas, (2) lack of energy/punch/rippers -- the best moment here was Oak Island and he needs to do way more of that heavy shit, (3) slight feeling of inauthenticity based on how he billed himself early in his career -- this is mostly a "me" problem as the man is entitled to capitalize on fame, but in reading my Elisabeth review now, everything I loved most about that album, the lyrics on it, and what it represented all feel irrelevant...so, mostly just #1 and #2 from an objective standpoint.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 5th 2024


61268 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

phased out halfway through this, but might finish it another time hmm



good review — would be a 2.5-3 if anyone else had written it, but makes a reasonable case for all the points that stood out to me about this. would question Oak Island is *that* exciting as an individual listen, but it certainly lands as an obvious highlight in context

bigweinerdon
July 5th 2024


2724 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Definitely agree on (2). More energy and more twang, paired with his great songwriting would be an improvement.

AmericanFlagAsh
July 5th 2024


13480 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I think this will be a grower for me for sure

5secondsofsummerfan
July 5th 2024


106 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I feel like the production and instrumentation on this is what elevates for me. I feel like his previous album felt a lot more unfinished. This is probably closer to a 4 but so far I'm enjoying it a lot. I do agree he needs to skip a year and not turn out so much music so fast. He's almost pushing towards king gizzard levels of quickness

Sowing
Moderator
July 5th 2024


44137 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks all. And yeah, personally I don't have anything against frequent releases, but I do feel like it's impacting Zach's ability to hit home emotionally. If you're putting out an album and an EP per year on average, with LPs anywhere from 18-34 songs, your ability to ~move~ me every time significantly decreases. Part of me wonders if I'd adore this if it were the first release of his I'd ever heard.

Feather
July 5th 2024


10293 Comments


I have learned through Zach that frequent releases is not always a great thing. Impact has been less and less on me with each release. This one on first impression though I think might be better than the last snoozer

Sowing
Moderator
July 5th 2024


44137 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

It might be contradictory of me to say given it was 34 tracks, but he definitely peaked with American Heartbreak. His self titled was decent but boring, this is a step up but still not as musically interesting or emotionally deep as anything from his first three LPs.

bigweinerdon
July 5th 2024


2724 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This probably better than Deann or Elizabeth. He’ll never touch AH

5secondsofsummerfan
July 5th 2024


106 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This album is a lot more busy though which isn't necessarily a good or bad thing. Almost every track has more than 5 instruments compared to American heartbreak where it still felt like one guy and an acoustic guitar for most of the album with tracks like heavy eyes sprinkled in. This is like the inverse. I do agree this album peaks with Oak Island and I want more of that.

Gameofmetal
Emeritus
July 5th 2024


11641 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I guess I can't say American Heartbreak is overrated given the avgs are all close, but I don't get what yall see in it that puts it over a couple of his other records. It's a bloated record of very even, solid quality. The highlights are better on S/T.

Sowing
Moderator
July 5th 2024


44137 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I think because it is so consistent and even, and at a high level IMO. It is also the first of his that feels fairly fleshed out and produced, because DeAnn and Elisabeth were pretty stripped back. To each their own though; I think S/T is his worst and the highlights aren't that great (but it's still a 3.5 ;-) )

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
July 5th 2024


6028 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

Nice review Sowing! On first listen I thought this was a cut above the self-titled, but I do agree it's definitely too long.

RadioSuicide
July 5th 2024


2659 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

This guy is such a cornball







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