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On Sept. 22, country music star Zach Bryan released his newest EP, Boys of Faith. The EP, which contains five tracks, features folk artists Noah Kahan and Bon Iver. Already racking up millions of streams, Bryan’s fans were quick to declare their new favorite songs. At just 16 minutes long, the EP defines itself as short, but sweet.
Boys of Faith opens with Nine Ball, a poignant story of a complex father-son relationship tainted by the father’s gambling addiction, told through emotive lyrics like, “You’ll probably be nothin’ but this town’s old drunkard and die on a smoke-stained stool. But right now, he’s got a bargain that he’s taken too far on his boy’s game of nine-ball pool.” The song features multi-instrumentalist Rob Moose on the fiddle. Moose, who has worked with Bon Iver in the past, also plays the fiddle on Pain, Sweet, Pain and Sarah’s Place and is credited with strings on the EP’s title track, Boys of Faith.
Sarah’s Place, the second song on the EP, is a bittersweet, upbeat tune about the memories and experiences shared between ex-partners. The song reminisces on the times the couple had at their friend Sarah’s place until one of them moved. Bryan and Kahan sing, “Don’t come back, lover, I’m proud you’re under the skyline. We always knew you were the better half of our good times,” depicting the process of championing someone and wishing them the best, all while hoping they are still there to create good times with. The song encapsulates both Bryan’s country background and Kahan’s folk style.
The EP’s title track, Boys of Faith, features Bon Iver, an indie folk project led by frontman and primary songwriter Justin Vernon. Melancholy and nostalgic, the song combines haunting harmonies, swelling instrumentals, and reflective lyrics, such as the chorus, “But you stuck around when I was down, and I’ll owe you all my days, them boys of faith.” Although this is the first time the two artists have collaborated, Bryan shared a cover of Bon Iver’s hit song Skinny Love back in 2016. Expressing his respect for Vernon, Bryan tweeted, “Bon Iver is such a generational act and such a genius in my eyes if you guys only understood how far this goes back for me and if you understood he’s the reason I started playing music that meant somethin’.”
While the collaborations may grab all the headlines, the true star of the EP is the fourth track, Deep Satin. After Bryan performed the song live back in September of 2022, it quickly became a fan favorite, and many were disappointed when it didn’t appear on the tracklist for Zach Bryan’s self-titled album. On Twitter, Bryan revealed that he wanted his album to be fully self-produced, so he would release Deep Satin, which his friend Eddie produced, in the following months. The studio version contains the same grittiness and desperation as the unreleased clips, with Bryan’s raw vocals, persistent drums, and a crescendoing chorus.
The EP concludes with Pain, Sweet, Pain, a reflection of climbing life’s uphill challenges and personal growth. Bryan sings, “Pain, sweet pain, let’s learn somethin’ from it. I see the top, brother, and I might just summit. ’Cause I’ve been pinin’ and pinin’ for so damn long. Thinkin’ it’s about time someone else is strong.” The inspiring yet melancholy lyrics are in contrast to its up-tempo, catchy beat, making it a versatile melody. Throughout the song, Bryan hones in on resilience, humility, and the idea that one will grow to make it beyond their challenges, leaving listeners with a message of hope.
Bryan recently announced his Quittin Time Tour, which is set to commence in March of 2024. With five new tracks under his belt and a recent rise in popularity, Bryan’s tour is sure to be an unmissable event. If you want to hear his most recent songs live, be sure to catch Bryan in Sacramento on Nov. 29, 2024!
(Sources: Apple Music, Genius, Holler, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone)