Artists and albums don’t connect to the masses nowadays like they used to.
Traditional radio is filled with empty airwaves and cringy advertisements. Most of us prefer niche music delivered via Airpods and auxiliary cords.
The notion that an album could actually appeal to anyone regardless of sex, race, geographic location and age in 2022 feels outlandish. And the fact that it would be done by a 26-year-old kid from Oologah, OK., seems downright outlandish.
Allow me to introduce you to American Heartbreak and its’ singer/songwriter, Zach Bryan.
Bryan was a Navy brat, initially born in Japan. He picked up the guitar at age 14 before eventually following in his family’s footsteps and joining the U.S. Navy himself.
In the late 2010s, Bryan began uploading clips of him playing music – just him and his guitar – to YouTube. His songs began trending on the platform, and in 2019, his video of himself singing his original song, “Heading South,” went viral.
He self-released his first two albums, “DeAnn” and “Elisabeth,” in 2019 and 2020. By 2021, he made his Grand Ole Opry debut and was signed by who else but Warner Music.
What set Bryan apart from the beginning was his ability to combine folk stylings and country melodies. Yet, his storytelling ability – on the level of greats like Eric Church, Tim McGraw, and Taylor Swift – truly makes his music special.
“American Heartbreak ”
American Heartbreak is a record that you can’t fully appreciate on the first listen, or even the first few. Some songs feel sad, some make you happy and present, others fill you with hope for the future.
The 34-song double album was highlighted by four smash-hit singles, “From Austin,” “Highway Boys,” “Late July,” and “Something in the Orange.” Amidst the four-pack, there’s a little something for everyone; a reflecting farewell, oaths to life on the road – chasing dreams – and a sunset acceptance of regrets and the present.
Past the singles, the album begins with tracks like “Heavy Eyes” and “Mine Again” that take you back to simpler times with their blues-infused riffs and upbeat tempo. Expect some soulful violin and harmonica well-placed throughout the first quarter of this album.
Track eight, “Younger Years,” shows the painstaking exuberance that fuels our reckless behavior when we’re young, by painting the picture of a small town bar on a weekend all-nighter.
You don’t have to dig very deep in the album to find maybe its best song in “She’s Alright.” It’s a ballad to his late mother, introspectively wishing that she was still around to see him come up in the music industry. As usual with Bryan’s music, he points out his damnings, like when he “threw up on a corner in Philadelphia.”
The heart of Bryan’s third full-length studio album is flooded with songs that vary in tempo and style. He slows it down with a cover of “You are my Sunshine and an original “Darling,” just to pick it back up with country-rock jams, “ Whiskey Fever,” and “Sober Side of Sorry.”
Only once you wade into the 20s on this album can you hear Bryan’s talent and storytelling complexities. ”The Good I’ll Do” features violin and ukulele, describing the intricacies of his rising fame and the good he hopes to accomplish through his music.
“Poems and Closing Times” will likely be the certified pub hit from the record with its hook of “I’ve been overdrinking / ‘Cause I’ve been overthinking / ‘Cause I get so damn anxious at night.” Its harmonica and guitar solos make it stand out from not only the rest of the album but the rest of today’s country music.
“Corinthians (Proctor’s)” is perhaps the overall strongest song on disc two, painting such a clear picture of our younger free-spirited selves, reminding us, “that nothing good happens after you turn 25.”
The final heavyweight track, “Half Grown,” also happens to be the tear-jerkertrack of the record. It has shades of Bryan’s all-time best-selling song, “Heading South,” in how much raw emotion bleeds through, especially in the chorus. It tells us that were often the sum of who are parents were or weren’t, but how can we overcome it and offer forgiveness for wrongdoings.
Already a Timeless Classic
Overall, this album carries a lot of the same themes the previous work of Bryan has; working through pasted dealings, charting a new path and the swings of love. If you liked his first few albums and singles, American Heartbreak will be just as good of a collection.
If you’re new to Bryan or the country genre altogether, you may have just stumbled across a one of your new favorite artists. He’s a great listen for working, walking or just relaxing with the windows open. You can enjoy this record alone or share it with just about anyone in your life. They’re sure to at least enjoy some of the songs, even if the country is not their genre of choice. Years from now, American Heartbreak will be remembered as a classic of 2022 and perhaps even one of the year’s best-selling albums.