In music, very few people can really be loners. Crew, champions, influences, fans, peers: These connections lift strivers beyond their own bedroom dreams and create the context in which music becomes audible. Zach Bryan has risen rapidly in the roots/country/Americana realm, in part, by presenting himself as a relatively solitary self-made man: Standing alone in front of increasingly huge crowds, he sings his raw, red-dirt ballads in a voice that feels unfiltered. But his exercises in immediacy still reflect the work of others — including the powerful cohort of women singer-songwriters who've been refreshing the form using his favorite strategies: immediacy, vulnerability and maverick attitude.
That's why it's great to hear Bryan duet with Maggie Rogers, one of those daring women, on his new single "Dawns." The addition of a woman's voice allows the duo to play with perspective and, in doing so, refresh the template of Bryan's laments. Again he stands on an ex's front porch, somewhat angrily begging that she return his stuff and his dignity; that scenario expands to include a memory of a mother to whom he can't run because "I lost her last July in a heart attack." So far, affecting but standard masculine heartbreak. Bryan's vocal, particularly rough-edged, amplifies the story's howling pain.
But then Rogers enters the picture. Her verse flips the song's angle and cleverly changes the meaning of its hook. In her words about missing "going out to bars, shooting stars and not worrying about what's left of us," Rogers reveals that one person's ideal romance can be another's cage. When he sings, "Give me my dawns back," he's longing for intimacy, but in her mouth the phrase signals the confinement she felt in those close quarters. There's no reconciliation as the song ends, but their voices intertwine in the end — two loners not forgetting that the one they once turned to will always remain in the rear view.