Zach Bryan’s Summertime Blues speaks directly to this moment in time. It's an ultimately earth-shattering release in its very own way.
Zach Bryan may just be the most ambitious rising star in country music.
On the heels of May’s 34-song major label debut, American Heartbreak, the singer-songwriter has surprised fans with a follow-up EP, Summertime Blues, in July. If his wide-spanning third album didn’t quite work for you, the nine-song release may be more your speed. With its tighter runtime and thematic arc, Bryan continues delivering songwriting excellence with the same bruised, raw, and emotionally-centered storytelling he’s quite quickly become loved for.
An astute observer of the human condition, Bryan unloads his soul as though his very life depends on it. Perhaps it does. Summertime Blues is mournful, probing and wonderfully sad; “Gonna bury all my sorrow as the summertime passes by,” he deplores with striking resignation. Birds chirp gleefully in the background, punctuating the notion that our singular miseries are ours and ours alone. The world continues to spin, perhaps a bit cruelly.
Time’s heavy hand rests on his shoulder, as you hear on ‘Twenty So’, a meditative exercise in seeking purpose in life, holding onto youth and learning how ephemeral existence really is. “I fear all my days of being young are done,” he whispers through flaky guitar chords. He takes a momentary breath before wrestling with what role his faith ultimately plays in his own demise. “How close can a man come to God before dying / ‘Bout as close as you were when you were trying,” he allows.
Despite a red-hot career, even Bryan grapples with intensifying pressure, a grueling tour schedule (as he notes in a Twitter thread on the album), and finding balance. “Oh, one day, it’ll be quittin’ time,” he snaps his jaws. With ‘Quittin’ Time,’ he cracks open his heart and spills its contents out for all to hear. His honesty is both revitalizing and devastating, fully encompassing the stretch between living and dying. “Everyday is so fleeting / and I have been trying to save it while I can,” he attests on ‘Motorcycle Drive By.’
On this song, in particular, he shares how writing the song was his attempt to “capture the feeling of how fast it all moves, the intention of stepping back and taking a deep breath and realizing you have to enjoy it and enjoy every single second with the people you love.”
His statement emerges as the backbone to the entire record, nestled between the cracks in his wistful performance of ‘Jamie’, a guitar-picked funeral song about a dead loved one. “This life ain’t worth living if the love that you’ve been given is taken before you are,” collaborator Charles Wesley Godwin exhales in his verse.
Bryan savors his life, as much as he weeps for its inevitable passing. “I could die tonight,” he sings on the jangly ‘Us Then’. Monstrously swampy story-song ‘Matt and Audie’ regales a tale of two ramblin’ souls always on the run (“I’d rather die a desperate man / than a man that got caught,” he admits). It all comes to a head with ‘All the Time’ and its lyrically serrated edge. “I feel like a nuisance in my own damn mind,” he wails, before lamenting that “there’s got to be more to this than being pissed off all the time”.
Zach Bryan’s Summertime Blues speaks directly to this moment in time. It’s never overwrought or too on-the-nose. Rather, it’s a simple expose of human existence in its darkest moments, an ultimately earth-shattering release in its very own way.
9.5 / 10
Zach Bryan's 2022 EP Summertime Blues is out now via Belting Bronco Records / Warner Music.