When 27-year-old Zach Bryan first started releasing music, he was serving in the U.S. Navy. In his spare time, he began writing songs, recording them on iPhones and uploading them to YouTube to share with friends.
Bryan's rough-cut DIY songs found a ravenous audience online without any backing from Nashville or a record label. When Bryan uploaded a video of himself performing his song "Heading South" in 2019 out behind the Navy barracks, it unexpectedly went viral and gained millions of views.
Still, Bryan followed the path of a true indie artist. He recorded his debut album, DeAnn, in an Airbnb with his friends. The record was dedicated to (and named after) his late mother Annette DeAnn Bryan. On DeAnn, Bryan introduced himself as a poet's songwriter. Several tracks from the album were picked up by Yellowstone, which further fueled Bryan's popularity.
In 2020, Bryan released his follow-up album, Elisabeth. Like DeAnn, Elisabeth was self-released. Nearly a year later, Bryan made his Grand Ole Opry debut in Nashville. Shortly afterward, he was honorably discharged from the Navy. After his discharge, he put his full efforts into pursuing music.
While his career is just beginning, Bryan has already proved himself to be a prolific songwriter. Earlier this year, he released his major label debut American Heartbreak. Since its release, the 34-track triple album has been devoured by fans, earning Bryan over six million monthly listeners on Spotify.
Keep reading to count down The Boot's top ten Zach Bryan songs, so far.
"God Speed"From: 'DeAnn' (2019)
Bryan uses plain-spoken language to craft profoundly emotional lyrics. This trait is a hallmark of nearly all of his songs and is especially true on DeAnn. Still, "God Speed" stands out for its earnest blend of hope and patience.
In the verses, Bryan names his wishes over an acoustic strum, singing, "I wanna love a girl who / Doesn't worry about the pictures when we kiss / And wake up one day and not be so hit and miss." Still, he maintains patience, knowing that the journey can't be rushed. Bryan sings, "I'm movin' at God speed / Only God and my mama know what I need."
"Late July"From: 'American Heartbreak' (2022)
"Late July" is American Heartbreak's opening track. The acoustic, banjo-laced track toys with the twin impulses to stay and leave — feelings that are present in almost every road song in country music. Even with these familiar themes, Bryan's raspy voice and humble lyrics like "Praying that my girl is fine / Sleeping in while rain falls on the roof" make the song feel lived-in and true.
"Heavy Eyes"From: 'American Heartbreak' (2022)
Bryan is, above all else, a classic singer-songwriter. However, he can go electric just like the best of them. "Heavy Eyes" is louder and rowdier than a lot of Bryan's tracks, but it's just as good. "Heavy Eyes" bursts with the exuberance of old friends and cherished "outlaw" memories. But in Bryan's world, even the outlaws have soft spots. He sings, "Keep those heavy eyes soft and kind."
"November Air"From: 'Quiet, Heavy Dreams' (2020)
Bryan's discography is filled with songs in which he transcends grief to make something beautiful. "November Air" is one of the best examples of this. Over poignant violins, Bryan addresses his late mother directly: "Dear Mama, they were wonderful / All the sights you'll never see / And dear ma, if I could hold you, I'd grab you by the arms / Tell you what it means / You could take a worthless poor boy from the flats / And make him mean something." This meaning-making is what makes Brayn so beloved by fans.
"Sun to Me"From: 'American Heartbreak' (2022)
In "Sun to Me," Bryan looks at love as a portal for healing and growth and gives some good advice in the process. "Find someone who grows flowers in the darkest parts of you." The track's lyrics bloom with floral images and land like a poem sung out loud.
"Flying or Crying"From: 'DeAnn' (2019)
"Flying or Crying" was Bryan's second song featured in an episode of Yellowstone. The hugely-popular show has earned a reputation for having the best soundtrack, peppering its episodes with some of the most exciting artists in alternative country music. "Flying or Crying" helped further propel Bryan's growing momentum.
"Half Grown"From: 'American Heartbreak' (2022)
There's a deep sense of self-reflection and vulnerability in Bryan's songwriting. "Half Grown" is alive with both of these things and stands as one of Byran's most arresting songs.
On the heart-wrenching track, Bryan considers what it means to try to choose forgiveness when we think about our families and the ways they have hurt us. The sense of compassion in the song is striking as Bryan sings, "But I'll raise myself a family and right the wrong / Of some imperfect people who were only half grown."
"Heading South"From: Elisabeth (2020)
In 2020, Bryan finally recorded "Heading South" for his album Elisabeth. The recorded version preserves the same sense of urgency and unfiltered passion that made the original YouTube recording such a success. Today, it's one of Bryan's most heavily streamed songs.
"From Austin"From: 'American Heartbreak' (2022)
One of the best tracks on American Heartbreak, "From Austin," shows the full strength of Bryan's voice. The track opens with gentle fingerpicking and Bryan's vulnerable rasp singing above it. As the song builds and gains power, so does Bryan — by the final notes, he sounds just as tortured as the dead-end love he's singing about.
"Something in the Orange"From: 'American Heartbreak' (2022)
"Something in the Orange" spent multiple weeks in the top 10 of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart and remains Bryan's most critically-acclaimed single thus far. The excitement around the song is well-earned: The stripped-down ballad is one of the finest country songs in recent memory that successfully captures the elusiveness of heartbreak.