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“American Heartbreak” review

A picture of the performer Zach Bryan with his guitar playing live

“American Heartbreak” review

This is going to be a controversial review.

 

Why? Because our pick for best LP in 2022 is a country music album. Alright, let that settle for a minute…

 

Ok, now that stereotypes are out of the way and minds are open – let us introduce to you Zach Bryan and his monumental “American Heartbreak”. Monumental because of its length – 34 tracks!, its quality, and the truly unusual feat it has pulled off. But let’s take one step at a time.

 

Zach is young, like, really young. Born in Japan in 1996 but raised in Oklahoma, he followed family tradition and served in the US Navy for 8 years until recently when he was honourably discharged to fully pursue his blooming career as a songwriter. But for a long time a music career was just a mirage, an afterthought at best. As long days ended, Zach would simply pick up a guitar and sing tunes until he could perfect them; for his friends, fellow officers, whoever was around. It was pure passion, nothing else. He started a YouTube channel in 2017 where he would upload unedited iPhone videos taken by his mates – viewed by a very limited audience.

 

Then came 2019, and a recording of “Heading South” started taking off. There’s no other way to put it but to use the usual cliché – it went viral. Now sitting at 18M views, the video is as raw and honest as only Zach can do. Shot outside a base, during a sweltering 35C summer night, it’s just a man, his guitar, a mountain of talent and… quite a bit of sweat.

 

Since then, Zach has fended off any big contract that would turn him into the next typical country star: makeup, expensive clothes, heavy-handed post-production, huge audiences, the same lyrics and tropes over and over again. The kind of circus that has killed off the essence of the genre and created the love/hate connotation it has (in Europe – more hate than love to be honest).

 

And yet, here it is, unexpectedly, Gen Z coming to the rescue and turning the clock a good 70 years back. Sure, “American Heartbreak” is often easy listening, and it whiffs of pop at times, but it’s damn good pop, and it never feels fake or repetitive. In a panorama saturated with studio-created pop stars, Zach is riding solo – gaining ever greater momentum without spoiling his true identity. Self-deprecating and yet bursting with energy, he crosses generational divides with ease.

 

The lyrics are emotional, deep, humble, relatable. He does touch on many of the hallmarks of the Western lifestyle, but he does so in a realistic way, never embellishing things. And among the various love songs and odes to whiskey, the listener is in for many surprises: from “Billy Stay” (tactfully and playfully addressing Alzheimer’s) to “The Road I Know” (Is this a road trip? Is this a dream? Is it something more perhaps?).

 

With 34 tracks, this was never going to be an exhaustive review, but if we managed to get you curious, mission accomplished. If not, all good, you’ll find us practising our lasso technique and cracking open a cold beer around a campfire.

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