‘The Great American Bar Scene’ – Zach Bryan – New Album Review
UPDATED: July 9, 2024
UPDATED: July 9, 2024
The Great American Bar Scene

Zach Bryan returns with his latest album, The Great American Bar Scene, releasing fittingly on the anniversary of our great nation July 4, 2024. True to Bryan’s prolific pace, this album arrives just 10 months after his self-titled album, Zach Bryan. Comprising 19 tracks, it delivers the authentic Americana sound that fans have come to love.

As is typical with Bryan’s work, the album has received mixed reviews. Some critics claim it all sounds the same and lacks depth, while others praise it as his best production and storytelling yet. Regardless of these divided opinions, Bryan remains unphased, continuing to stand at the forefront of musicians across all genres. With The Great American Bar Scene, it seems unlikely that his status will change anytime soon. 

The Great Zach Bryan Debate

So, which side of the aisle do I stand on? Well, that’s not a black-and-white answer. Anyone who questions the quality of Zach Bryan’s writing is, frankly, misguided. Compared to what? Try That in a Small Town, or Dustin Lynch’s newest hit Chevrolet? (Which, in my opinion, is equivalent to spitting in the listener’s face.) To take such an iconic song, Dobie Gray’s Drift Away, and force-feed listeners a bunch of pandering bullshit about a Chevrolet truck is a travesty. Regardless, given the state of country music, to have the audacity to say Zach Bryan’s lyrics lack substance is no less than a crime and couldn’t be further from the truth.

Ok….I digress. This has turned into more of an anger diary than a Zach Bryan review. Overall, the album does sound familiar. It sounds like Zach Bryan—we’ve all been down this road, and Bryan has remained unapologetically the same despite such claims.

The man makes music he likes, essentially “three chords and the truth” music. There are only so many arrangements of the same chords before everything has a similar tone and sound. Bryan is self-aware; he tries to distinguish each song through minimal production, whether it’s lone strums, an electric guitar in the background, simple piano playing, or recently, the addition of top-tier collaborators such as Springsteen himself (featured on the track Sandpaper). But in the end, despite production tricks and arrangements, it continues to be the same Zach Bryan sound, and purposely his continued method of delivery.

The Highlights

Overall, in my mind, The Great American Bar Scene is as good as any other Zach Bryan album. Furthermore, it’s better than any current “country” album out, and I am 100% not a Zach Bryan apologist. The writing is crisp, clear, clever, and continuing to get better. The overarching themes of The Great American Bar Scene seem to be growing older, self-realization, love, loss, and regret.

Pink Skies is a nuanced celebration of life, detailing kids coming back home for a funeral, reminiscing on growing up, and the struggles of raising children.

The Way Back, co-written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, is a beautiful tale mixed with regret and redemption, with lost souls struggling to find themselves and their way back home.

John Moreland lends his lyrical expertise on the love song Memphis; The Blues, and John Mayer adds his unmistakable guitar riffs on Better Days.

Purple Gas is hands down my favorite on the album. Unaware of Noline Hoffman before this track, her beautiful voice will literally melt your soul. Her vocal warmth adds harmonic depth to the overall song, while lyrically yearning for more out of life, feeling trapped in the way of rural life.

Final Thoughts

I realize my review is all over the place, partly fueled by my love for the genre, and partly fueled by anger. It’s ironic because I would not consider myself a huge Zach Bryan fan, but according to Spotify’s end-of-year list, I’m in his top 3% of listeners. I think that’s more of a testament to just how much I care about music and the genre.

I tend to get absurdly angry about the amount of criticism this man receives. To say he’s a bad songwriter is just untrue and outlandish. Bryan knows his way around song crafting—that’s the foundation of his entire legacy. But he obviously doesn’t need my help in defending his cause. Wake up, people; he’s the answer to the state of music today.

The Great American Bar Scene will undoubtly be recieved as another great success. Although it may be uneven in parts and delivers more somber Zach Bryan than we’re used to, that’s part of its appeal. The journey showcases a musician who is coming to terms with his place on Earth, maturing with a more subdued and introspective point of view. Bryan bleeds humility and thankfulness throughout the project, continuing to lean into his raw and unpolished sound.

Zach Bryan’s whole “brand” is authenticity. This is what people crave, and The Great American Bar Scene delivers just that.

Album Release: July 4, 2024

Favorite Tracks: Purple Gas

RootsnRevelry Grade:                           

B-

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