It’s no secret that Zach Bryan is the hottest star in country music right now. From scoring #1’s to crashing Ticketmaster, everything he touches turns to gold.
With the recent release of his self-titled album back in August, it’s the perfect time to rank his first four full-length records. This, of course, will exclude his three EPs, Quiet, Heavy Dreams, Summertime Blues, and the most recent, Boys of Faith.
Without further ado, let’s jump right into the dark, beautiful world of Zach Bryan.
I should preface this placement by saying that I don’t think Bryan has made a bad album. That being said, however, I think that Elisabeth is his weakest to date. Elisabeth serves as the second and final entry of Bryan in his independent, low-fi era. It sounds extremely similar to DeAnn, mostly due to the DIY-style production and simplicity, without the cohesion.
Elisabeth is a lengthy, 18 songs and an hour and four minutes. One of the common criticisms of Bryan’s music is that it all sounds the same. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that, this album is easily the closest for that complaint to be valid.
While there are standouts such as the longing Loom, the delicate Washington Lilacs, the brutally honest Leaving and the rowdy Revival, I think that this album lacks the cohesion of DeAnn and the spark of American Heartbreak. While DeAnn feels like it perfectly captures the grief of losing his mother and the nostalgia of his youth, Elisabeth simply feels a bit less focused. All that being said, the record is still rock solid.
Standout Track: Loom
3. Zach Bryan
It’s admittedly a little hard to place this album given that it came out less than two months ago. I’ve personally listened to the other three albums hundreds of times and had plenty of time to digest and evaluate them over the years. Zach Bryan feels like a unique blend of the low-fi nature of his independently released records, DeAnn and Elisabeth, and the professionally produced heartland sound of his most recent releases.
Tracks such as Smaller Acts and Summertime’s Close feel as if they’re ripped straight from DeAnn while El Dorado and Fear and Friday’s could easily be placed on his more recent Summertime Blues.
It’s apparent here, now more than ever, that Bryan isn’t afraid to do his own thing. This record is easily his least country album to date, and while I don’t view that as a negative, I don’t know if every choice works as well as it could have. Spotless featuring the Lumineers and Tourniquet are songs that I feel don’t work nearly as well given their production choices. That being said, I have to applaud Bryan for not being scared to try new styles and ultimately not caring about the “that’s not real country” crowd.
Standout Track: El Dorado
2. American Heartbreak
The album that catapulted Bryan to stardom is an incredibly long, brilliant one.
American Heartbreak comes in at a whopping 34 tracks and a two-hour runtime. It feels like a coming-of-age film rather than a music album due to its sprawling nature and key mood shifts throughout the record. It’s an album that simply should not work on paper due to its length, but Bryan makes it work with quality writing, production and delivery throughout. It’s hard not to love at least some portion of this album given how long and how much variety is present throughout the record.
I’d also be foolish not to mention the absolute juggernaut that Something in the Orange was for Bryan. While I wouldn’t say it is my absolute favorite from him, it’s hard to ignore just how well it connected to so many people. It’s special to see even the most indie-hesitant of country listeners fall in love with Bryan’s storytelling and style.
Ultimately, the ups and downs of American Heartbreak are what evidently connected with so many people. Like many great country albums before it, American Heartbreak is relatable. Many younger listeners connected to Bryan’s self-critical, raw approach to storytelling and songwriting. He doesn’t hold back here at all, laying into himself, his upbringing and his past loves while simultaneously keeping a glimmer of hope in the darkest of times.
American Heartbreak does exactly what the title suggests, it captures the experience of youth (and heartbreak) in America. All of the angst, impulsivity, emotion and pain are captured beautifully here.
Standout tracks: Sun To Me, ’68 Fastback, The Good I’ll Do
The album that started it all for Bryan still remains his best in my opinion. While, of course, his production, voice, and overall identity have been bettered and further explored through the years, there’s something powerful about DeAnn.
Coming in at 12 songs and 39 minutes, the album feels like an extremely cohesive, introspective reflection of what Bryan was going through when it was released in 2019. It’s safe to say that the album that started Bryan’s rise to fame will go down as one of the all-time classics in the independent country scene.
From the delicate Snow to the romping Flying or Crying, DeAnn feels like a once-in-a-lifetime album. The raw story-telling, the simplicity of the chord progressions and the sloppiness of the production all combine to make the record feel authentic. It’s a true peek behind the curtain of what makes Bryan unique and ultimately a tribute to his late mother, DeAnn Bryan, who passed away in 2016. While American Heartbreak has the better streaming numbers, charting and overall popularity, it’s hard not to point to the album that started it all for the Oklahoma singer/songwriter that we all know and love as the best so far.
Standout Track: Letting Someone Go