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Zach Bryan, “The Great American Bar Scene” – Album Review

The Great American Bar Scene

In just a few short years, Zach Bryan has emerged as one of the most compelling acts in all of music. As the July 4th release date of his new album, The Great American Bar Scene, crept up, it quickly became the most anticipated record of his career. With the bar set as high as it was, it would be virtually impossible to exceed the expectations and make every listener happy.

As Bryan has done in the past, the project’s opening track is a poem titled “Lucky Enough.” It sets a nice tone for the following tracks as Bryan writes about his future dreams and aspirations. While it doesn’t really present the album’s overall theme, it gives an idea of what to expect in the next hour and three minutes while listening. It probably isn’t going to be something that listeners return to, but it was a great addition nonetheless. 

The Great American Bar Scene features 18 other songs outside the opening poem. Each is unique in its own way, giving it a sense of individuality. As a result, it never feels like there was one common theme throughout the record. The songs don’t connect seamlessly; Bryan filled this tracklist with songs that spoke to him individually rather than building this record with a singularly cohesive message Nevertheless, the album doesn’t come across as a mere collection of singles or feel disjointed. Instead, each song stands strong on its own merit.

Bryan had a hand in writing and producing every song on the album, most of which he did by himself. That adds a “cool factor” to the project, knowing the project is 100% exactly how Bryan wanted it to sound. Sometimes, the production gets sloppy, but that’s what gives it its charm. A prime example of this is “Oak Island.” It’s one of the best songs on the whole album, and one of the interesting things about it is its chaotic energy at the end courtesy of the band’s cacophonous guitar and trumpet. The imperfection makes each song feel more real than an overly-polished sound. Despite its messy charm, it would be nice to see Bryan reunite with Eddie Spear in the future. Spear has produced many of Bryan’s work in the past, including American Heartbreak. The duo consistently put out a much cleaner sound all while keeping things simple enough to maintain its unrefined appeal.

Throughout the album, Bryan took a lot of risks in the safest way possible. There is a lot that feels different and experimental while not venturing too far out of his comfort zone. “Towers” perfectly encapsulates this idea. The church choir that joins Bryan during the chorus is beautiful and helps elevate the song to the next level. That addition provided something we hadn’t heard from Bryan before, but it made perfect sense. It was unexpected and something new, but it still fits with Zach Bryan’s overall sound and is right up his listener’s alley. That experimentation kept the listening experience enjoyable without feeling too out of place.

The early standout is the fifth track, “American Nights.” It leaves the listener feeling as American as ever, making it the perfect release for the Fourth of July. The track is one of the few up-tempo songs providing a refreshing break from the slow pace of the rest of the album offering a lively take on the American lifestyle. Songs with that message walk a dangerous line between cool and original and cringy and unnecessary. Nevertheless, Bryan does an excellent job putting his own twist on it so it doesn’t feel like a song that’s been done a million times over.

Four other artists were featured on the album: Bruce Springsteen, John Mayer, Noeline Hofmann, and John Moreland. All four collaborations were standout tracks, leveraging each artist’s strengths to add distinctive flair and variety. With each vocalist bringing a unique style, they contribute to the album’s dynamic flow and keep the listener engaged throughout. Hofmann and Moreland give a folk appeal to the project, enhanced by the minimalist production. Springsteen and Mayer, on the other hand, were included in many more produced tracks. “Sandpaper” would make just as much sense if it were on a Springsteen record, and the same goes for “Better Days” with John Mayer. Bryan’s chemistry with each singer is exemplary, as no one dominates the other. Each collab brings diversity to the album and helps keep things fresh to ultimately take the project to the next level.

Overall, The Great American Bar Scene is one of the best records of 2024, but it still leaves people wanting a little more. Expectations were unrealistically high, and it just didn’t quite exceed them. Each track is unique from the others, but it would’ve been nice to see Bryan add a few more upbeat songs. Songs like “Heavy Eyes” or “No Cure” are some of Bryan’s best, and he seems to be moving further away from that. All the tracks are “good,” but not enough of them are “mind-blowing.” Even so, the style of the LP was cool because it genuinely felt like a Zach Bryan project; he added the songs he wanted because he liked them, and that was it. However, that robbed listeners of an overall story or theme of the project, which would’ve been a nice touch. All that said, it was still a very impressive album that should be worth returning to more than once.

8.2/10

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