Album - The Great American Bar Scene - Zach Bryan
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‘Oak Island’ by Zach Bryan - Lyrics & Meaning

July 8, 2024 5:05 pm GMT

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Zach Bryan - ‘Oak Island’

Label: Belting Bronco Records / Warner Records

Release Date: July 4th, 2024

Album: The Great American Bar Scene

Songwriter: Zach Bryan

Producer: Zach Bryan

Live Debut: May 5th, 2024 at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina

The Background:

‘Oak Island’, taken from Zach Bryan's widely acclaimed 2024 studio album, The Great American Bar Scene, is a classic Zach story song in the mould of ‘Crooked Teeth’ and ‘Nine Ball’.

The enchanting track was one we'd heard a few snippets and clips of in the lead-up to The Great American Bar Scene's release on July 4th, with Zach even temporarily adding it to his setlist at his Greenville, South Carolina show in early May.

The title could be a reference to the much-mythologised island in Nova Scotia, Canada, Oak Island in North Carolina or Oak Island Junction in New Jersey. Given the pointed ‘Jersey’ namecheck in the opening verse, it seems the latter is the most likely option - something that's consolidated when considering Oak Island Junction is an industrial freight railyard, which matches the rail-themed imagery of the song. Either way, whichever Oak Island Zach Bryan is citing in this song, he makes it clear it's not somewhere you want to spend too much time after dark.

The Sound:

In terms of its structure and the way it builds and builds over the course of the track, ‘Oak Island’ is an archetypal Zach Bryan song - but the introduction of mariachi horns, which at times feel playful, and at others convey an ominous sense of foreboding, gives the track a unique ambience. Through the addition of his acoustic guitar and harmonica, Zach nimbly navigates the ebbs and flows of ‘Oak Island’ by drawing in his vocals and injecting an impassioned rasp when the mood requires it.

The raucous, cymbal-shattering finale leaves you feeling charged and energised, with the chaotic, rowdy feel of the instrumental mirroring the atmosphere of a bar fight.

The Meaning:

“Rail-tie worker, I've been layin' ties on cold ground
But I'm leavin' this evenin' on the same tracks I laid down
There's some boys out in Jersey that are callin' me out by name
I got a reason to believe I ain't glory-bound anyway”

Zach steps into the shoes of someone who lays the crossties - the rectangular slats of wood or concrete - that run along the railway tracks and offer support. The narrator explains how he's leaving town via the very tracks they helped construct, in order to make his way to Jersey to deal with some boys that are after trouble.

The protagonist hints that he has a chequered past, and any misdeeds he's going to commit out in Oak Island will simply confirm the fact that he's never been Heaven-bound.

“And if you're readin' this letter tell my mother and my brother that I love 'em
He's got the better blood of my old man and our cousins
But he made a bad deal with some boys out on Oak Island
And if he don't pay they say they're bound to find him”

Zach Bryan suggests the song is being delivered in the form of a letter, although it's unclear who he's addressing it to. He adds to the sense of foreboding by asking whoever reads these words to tell his mother and brother how much he loves them, implying Oak Island Junction may end up being his final destination.

He toasts his brother as being the better of the two siblings, but laments how he “made a bad deal with some boys out on Oak Island”. Again, the narrator keeps the details murky, but whatever this underhanded deal was, it seems to have gone south, and the guys his brother made the agreement with are now thirsty for revenge.

“But if I find 'еm on that island first
The worst is yet to come
'Causе no blood in the mud I's raised in
Spent life on the run”

As a result, the protagonist determines to head to Oak Island in order to fight the group and protect his brother, warning them, “The worst is yet to come”. He refuses to let his brother fall victim to a life spent on the run trying to avoid the men that are after him.

“And I went to Jay's tavern and it happens that them boys were there
Recognized his backside from the color of our mother's hair
And my brother found another way to make himself a decent little livin'
He turned around and found himself a lickin' only blood could give him
And I told him I was there to keep him clear of that island
He said, "I love you Mickey, but I found out that I'm them"
And I got bad blood with some blood out on Oak Island
And if he stays I say I am bound to find him”

However, before the protagonist makes it to Oak Island, he spots the unruly group of guys in his local watering hole - somewhere called ‘Jay's Tavern’, which appears to be a fictional location. He notices his brother is hanging with the bad crowd, and subsequently decides to give him a beating “only blood could give him”.

Here, we find out the narrator's name is ‘Mickey’, with the brother responding to the protagonist's attempts to ward him off the dangerous island by shrugging his shoulders and confessing he feels as though he's “one of them”. Now, Mickey rephrases the earlier line and states that he has “bad blood with some blood out on Oak Island”, a clever play on the recurring use of ‘blood’ to refer to family.

“But if I find 'em on that island first
The worst is yet to come
'Cause no blood in the mud we's raised in
Spent life on the run”

The message of the song is cleverly flipped, with the protagonist now hunting down his brother, who has apparently joined the gang of men Mickey was feuding with. Mickey promises to catch him before too long - because, as we learned before, the protagonist believes “no blood in the mud we's raised in / Spent life on the run”.

What has Zach Bryan said about ‘Oak Island’?

Zach Bryan hasn't yet commented on ’Oak Island’, but in the preface to The Great American Bar Scene, which he shared a few days before its release, the ’Revival’ hitmaker explained the headspace and the circumstances that led to the album's creation as a whole, “The making of this album tested me and everyone close to me. It drove me to my ends and my beginnings. I saw the lights of Paris after saying I would for ten years, rode the coast of Australia with a beautiful woman, was locked in a pub until 7am in Ireland, walked my favorite street in New York over a hundred times, thought I was going to bleed out in a field in Tennessee, spent a few hours in handcuffs, hugged my grandma more than a few times, layed in the grass of my mother's hometown, sang ‘State Trooper’ in a bar South of Boston and wrote something that I think was important. I wrote and produced all of these with the help of some truly great friends. I finally felt like I's making music again. If you don't like it I assume it's not intended for you. Grab your beers through tears and fears, ‘the Great American Bar Scene’”.

For the full lyrics to Zach Bryan's ‘Oak Island’, see below:

“Rail-tie worker, I've been layin' ties on cold ground
But I'm leavin' this evenin' on the same tracks I laid down
There's some boys out in Jersey that are callin' me out by name
I got a reason to believe I ain't glory-bound anyway

-

And if you're readin' this letter tell my mother and my brother that I love 'em
He's got the better blood of my old man and our cousins
But he made a bad deal with some boys out on Oak Island
And if he don't pay they say they're bound to find him

-

But if I find 'еm on that island first
The worst is yet to come
'Causе no blood in the mud I's raised in
Spent life on the run

-

And I went to Jay's tavern and it happens that them boys were there
Recognized his backside from the color of our mother's hair
And my brother found another way to make himself a decent little livin'
He turned around and found himself a lickin' only blood could give him
And I told him I was there to keep him clear of that island
He said, "I love you Mickey, but I found out that I'm them"
And I got bad blood with some blood out on Oak Island
And if he stays I say I am bound to find him

-

But if I find 'em on that island first
The worst is yet to come
'Cause no blood in the mud we's raised in
Spent life on the run”

For more on Zach Bryan, see below:

Written by Zach Bryan
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