Just a few years ago, Zach Bryan recorded a song on an iPhone. Despite the humble production, the record (“Heading South”) eventually tore across the internet and acquainted the world with Bryan’s immense artistic promise. Bryan was an act with generational vocal talent, but without any body of work to suggest just what kind of artist he would be. Since then, over the course of multiple EPs and full-length projects, Bryan transformed himself from a little-known singer-songwriter with undeniable talent into one of the biggest names in popular music.
And after the August 25th release of his latest full-length album, Zach Bryan, the Oklahoman may well be one of the most compelling and relevant Country-Folk acts in decades.
This is not to say that Zach Bryan was irrelevant before last week. Without being a true household name, Bryan amassed a real following of over 15 million monthly listeners on Spotify and consistent placement on popular Country-Folk playlists across platforms.
But this project is fundamentally different than Bryan’s former work, and may raise Bryan to a sphere of popularity he has yet to reach. Why? Because it has a much better chance of being heard than anything Bryan has ever released.
This is due in part to the fact that Bryan’s newest release rides the incredible momentum of the artist’s relationship with the internet. Collaboration with Maggie Rogers on the January 2023 release “Dawns” and the TikTok virality of “Something in the Orange” opened the door for exposure to the vast majority of the American listening public.
However, exposure is meaningless without an artistic product people will fall for.
Zach Bryan is that product. There undeniable are high points to the album – “Eastside of Sorrow,” “Overtime,” and “Hey Driver” represent several – but Bryan truly seems to double down on the spirit of his act, crafting an album that strikes me as the most polished version of his work to date without bringing something too radically different than preceding projects.
Nevertheless, when you make records like those dotting the Zach Bryan track list, songs deep with human longing, stories of actual suffering and hope that follows, there’s no need to do something “new.” Rather, you need merely need to give people the opportunity to listen.
What Zach Bryan has done since he recorded that song on an iPhone is make an incredibly broad demographic of people feel something and encounter a unifying spirit of togetherness through life’s difficult occasions. He’s done so artfully through this project and in a way that rings deeply of a certain segment of the American experience. And in fact, he’s made Country-Folk music more popular than it has been in a very long time (unless you include Taylor Swift in that conversation, which I do not). Bryan has been given the space and the credibility to share a form of expression that is deeply beautiful, and his latest project, Zach Bryan, sits at the center of its all – of both the state of music and Zach Bryan’s new place in it.