Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

64° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Email Newsletter

Sign up to receive our email newsletter in your inbox.



Liner Notes: ‘Zach Bryan’ is truly Zach Bryan

Tabi Parent
Zach Bryan has been dipping his toes into songwriting since he was 14, and “Zach Bryan” is his fourth studio album.

Country music gets a bad rap. To many, it’s just beer, trucks, trailers and trash with a healthy dose of female degradation. The lyrics can be simple at their best and incoherent and insulting at their worst. To some on the outside, the genre represents the worst parts of America, with some banjo in the backtrack. 

Zach Bryan disintegrates every stereotype, turning it into dust blowing over an Oklahoma prairie on his latest self-titled album. The country music star taking the genre by the horns right now seems to have materialized on the scene overnight, with a notebook of inspired lyrics and a guitar in hand. However, Bryan has been dipping his toes into songwriting since he was 14, and “Zach Bryan” is already his fourth studio album. 

Listening to “Zach Bryan” is like listening to your grandpa telling stories on the front porch on a warm late summer night. You’re somewhere in the central United States — probably Oklahoma, if Bryan’s songs “Tishomingo” and “Oklahoma Smokeshow” are any indication. The evidently Oklahoman-raised artist sings with all the wisdom of an 80-year-old veteran. In fact, Bryan served in the Navy for eight years before being honorably discharged to pursue his music career.

You can hear this experience in his lyrics, along with the naive, wistful longing of the 27-year-old he is. As he says on one of the album’s tracks, he’s “too young to even know” himself, but that doesn’t stop him from exploring it all with his poignant and pressing lyrics. His writing is like poetry, and Bryan knows it — the first track on his album is a spoken word recitation set to lazy guitar strums. 

While Bryan delivers some galvanizing country rock and has been known to shred on the electric guitar, where he truly lights up is in the soft glow of the firelight, with his soulful acoustic songs ripe for campfire covers. “Ticking,” a gut wrenching song about passing time and leaving things behind, is one of these smoldering masterpieces. 

Bryan knows intimately why his songs are so powerful, so it makes sense that he produced the eponymous album himself. His personal touches dot the album in a way that any other producer would have been hard-pressed to replicate — the bird squawking rhythmically in the background of “Smaller Acts” is something that only an Oklahoman son could incorporate so purposefully. Not a single song on the album is out of place, and not a single song is missing.

Bryan has a thorough command of his own sound and knows just what artists will measure up to the task of his album. The War and Treaty, Sierra Ferrell, Kacey Musgraves and The Lumineers all feature on the record — the star-studded lineup a convincing endorsement of Bryan’s creative prowess. In particular, The War and the Treaty and The Lumineers breathe some folky, Americana life into the album, pairing nicely with the plaintive melancholia of Bryan’s lyrics. And Kacey Musgraves’ crisp, clear voice against Bryan’s painful rasp on “I Remember Everything” cuts through the album like a tear-jerking knife. 

Just because Bryan’s songs were written to be sung while sitting around a fire certainly does not mean they won’t do well under the bright lights of a concert venue. “Overtime” and “Fear and Fridays” are the perfect level of rowdiness for stadium sing-alongs. Luckily for listeners, Bryan announced on Aug. 28 that he will take to the roads and tour in 2024. 

Tickets are sure to be in high demand for “The Quittin’ Time Tour,”​​ but Bryan has been outspoken about his desire to make live music accessible for all. If his live album “All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster” is any indication, there is hope yet that true fans will be able to snag some seats in said stadiums. 

For now, listeners will have to make do by throwing a few logs on the firepit and putting the album on repeat. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @TabithaParent12

Related Stories: 

Joelton Mayfield brings folksy alt-country to Evanston SPACE

Liner Notes: Hozier mythologizes life and death on ‘Unreal Unearth’

Fall songs guide: Tunes to get you into the autumnal spirit

More to Discover