He may only be a few years into his career, but Zach Bryan has already amassed an impressive catalogue of songs in his arsenal. Since his 2019 debut, DeAnn, he’s issued two more full-length records alongside a batch of EPs, one-off singles and a live album - released on Christmas day no less - not once thinking of slowing down in the process.
What’s most impressive about Bryan though is that he’s rarely missed the mark. In fact, he’s writing the best songs not being manufactured on Music Row.
It was a tall order, but here are Zach Bryan’s 25 Best Songs, according to Holler.
Bryan shows gratitude for love. As he wades through its murky depths, he finds a greater understanding of what it means to be alive, deciding to seize each day while he has it. “You in the morning time / makes me glad I'm still alive,” the words ring ever powerful and true.
Loneliness is one of life’s most sorrowful pains. “No one gives a damn about me,” Bryan snarls, dejected. Here, incurable hurt infects his relationships and his ability to live a fulfilled life. Heartache, death and a myriad of other experiences cause rifts in this life, and Bryan is barely getting by.
Here, Bryan embraces the present. Even as the world is constantly racing for what’s next, he remains steady and true. Nevertheless, he finds himself losing time, as he experiences life in the moment. It’s an inevitable emotional crash, when you realize the present is now the past with the relentless tick of the clock.
Bryan would rather have loved and lost than not have loved at all. ‘Blue’ is a faded polaroid; a snapshot of what could be. “In my dreams / it seems I'm only chasin' you,” he whispers. His poetry and his sonnets are what get him by these days, as he waits for his day to come.
On '68 Fastback', Bryan compares himself to car parts. It seems fitting for a broken man in great suffering. “To you I'm just salvage / I ain't ran right in years,” he admits. His performance is lonesome and heavy, as though such confessions will free him. Eventually, it does.
Looking to the horizon, Bryan sees a glimmer of hope crest the mountaintops.
Even though he doesn’t even know if he’ll “be alive tomorrow,” he holds onto the idea that things will be better another day. He has his regrets, but it’s the hope that gets him through the storm.
Love can be baptismal. “You bring heaven down to me,” sings Bryan. His love is so strong that it’s a heavenly experience, something he’s never experienced in his life.
He then draws comparisons to Jesus’ ability to wash away your sin and turn you white as snow; “She takes my stain and makes me white as snow,” he adds.
Bryan flips through a reckless youth with ‘Flying or Crying’. Late-night binges are punctuated with conversations about other times he’s drunk too much.
“We've spent living towards dying,” he sings. He’s teetered on the edge one too many times, but at least if he falls he won’t be “going down alone”.
Bryan throws in his own version of a revival. Exchanging sin for sin, he gathers his buddies and heads out to the local watering hole to get baptized “in a bottle of Beam”.
The all-night binge may just do the trick to wash away their sins, but we’ll see how they feel when the morning light breaks.
Bryan is just a ramblin’ man. Ever restless, he claims “to be a man of the night”, he sings over a steady gallop. The horizon beckons him forward, even though his lover back home longs for him to stay. No matter; the road is his mistress, and he answers the call.
Bryan eyes the clock. The 9-to-5 hustle has done a number on him, all this barely getting by breaking his soul.
Still, he pushes forward for the sake of his life and his lover, the banjo’s rumble giving the song an almost railroad song bounce. “I'm saving all my pennies / and I'm praying to the Lord,” he whispers to himself.
Here, Bryan takes aim at Music Row with a sharp tongue. On ‘Me and Mine,’ he imparts the struggle he has endured to get where he is. At the time of his second studio record, Elisabeth, he may not have been a household name, but he sure is now.
“You can keep your name and burn the cash,” he seethes. No matter his success; he’s still just a boy from Oklahoma.
One’s younger years are wrought with late-night revelry, rough crowds and regrettable hangovers.
Bryan has certainly seen his fair share of all-nighters in his day. High on life and weed, the singer-songwriter finds himself “enjoying all the pain of younger years” and feeling more alive than he ever has. It’s all worth it in the end.
Bryan envisions a life full of hope and wonder on the outskirts of town. The city lights can only be seen on the horizon, gathered together with the sun’s golden rays.
It’s almost another life entirely; lying far and beyond the city’s bustle, nestled somewhere in the U.S.A.
Forgiveness plays at the heart of this American Heartbreak essential.
“You can't choose your blood / but you can choose to change the chains that chained you down” Bryan advises, catching the song in the back of his throat.
Before long, he's letting out a growl and casting an ensnaring emotional net.
On ‘Sun to Me,’ Bryan searches the world over for love. He also shares sage advice his mother once gave him; “Find someone who grows flowers in the darkest parts of you”. Over a blossoming, warm melody, the singer-songwriter wanders until he finds the love he always needed.
A beloved collaboration with Charles Wesley Godwin, ‘Jamie’ speaks of such immense heartbreak, the sort from which someone can never recover.
“'Cause this life ain't worth livin' / if the love that you've been given is taken before you are,” sings Godwin. The protagonist witnesses the love of his life fade with time, only the memories remaining.
Bryan will certainly understand if you walk away. With his song ‘Leaving,’ the singer-songwriter expresses how the “toxins” throbbing in his brain have hindered him from being “a better man”.
Acoustic guitar in tow, the mid-tempo ballad rings the emotions dry like doing laundry on a chilly Saturday morning.
Sometimes, the moments you cherish most are those in the quiet. Life is a bustle of sound and static, and so, those fleeting chances you get to just be mean even more.
With ‘Starved,’ a one-off single, Bryan relates his personal journey to a universal story about desperation and a hunger for something more meaningful out of life.
‘Sweet DeAnn’ serves as the centerpiece for 2019’s DeAnn. An ode to his late mother, the teary ballad recounts memories that are now only flashes in photographs. He yearns to give her a call, left only to the sadness rattling inside his head. “I miss you so,” he sings.
Things in this world can suck you dry. Bryan warns against these things - these bloodsuckers as he calls them - that drain you and leave you for dead. “Don’t let them steal your hope, child,” he encourages, his voice ringing clear and bright. He snarls his way through an apt metaphor, one enough to haunt your dreams.
“I fear all my days of bein' young are done,” laments Bryan. Time is cruel, and life seems as fleeting as it’s ever been.
For his part, Bryan feels it all crushing upon his shoulders without an escape. It’s a wistful tune that's packed with regret and sadness.
Death is the most inescapable of human experiences. Having endured his own tragedies, Bryan pens this heart-torn ballad to his late mother.
“I'll tell you all these stories one day,” he promises. As a memorial, ‘She’s Alright’ serves as a stunning reminder on life’s ephemeral nature and how songwriting gives him closure.
Technically a spoken word poem, ‘This Road I Know’ is greatly inspired by the work of authors John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac.
The words are decorated over a single acoustic guitar and starry patterns of other instruments. Everyday sounds can be heard in the mix, hammering home the idea of finding home in chaos.
Scripture in hand, Bryan kneels where music and religion cross to regale a tale about a sinful past and finding absolution. “Jet trails cut across the Winthrop County sky / That's why I reckon Sunday is a good day to die,” he opens. The scruffy acoustic arrangement gives the lyrics an even more confessional feel as Bryan seeks redemption.
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