Andrew Bryant has been grappling with his spirituality and identity across his solo albums from the beginning, but this time feels different. Aside from coming out of a global pandemic, Bryant also recently hit one year of sobriety, a journey he began in earnest while in lockdown. At home in Mississippi, newly married and setting out on a long-desired path toward a healthier way of living, Bryant channeled his struggle into songwriting and came out the other end with A Meaningful Connection. The songs that populate this record detail Bryant’s challenges with giving up drinking, establishing his own voice, and the daily frustrations we all share with vapid overstimulation. He sings about the brokenness of society but remains hopeful about his own ability to do and be better.
One of the greatest points of contention in Bryant’s deeply autobiographical songwriting has been his relationship with religion, and how he reconciles what he learned growing up in rural Mississippi with where he’s at now, 40 years in. Approaching sobriety while still ruminating on this is deftly chronicled on A Meaningful Connection. In the pulsating rocker “Reality Winner” he contemplates a “shitty midlife crisis,” the afterlife, and whether he’s living right. “I just want to drink my tea on my porch / as I stare at the shapes in the clouds,” he sings in his breathy baritone.
On the soulful “Drink the Pain Away,” he teeters on the edge, surrounded by moving boxes, alone and dying for a drink, all while still trying to be a dutiful father and partner. “Saying everything is fine / When everything feels fucked up is just a lie / I guess I never really learned how to let it go,” he sings, his voice soaked in the sadness of that vivid moment he paints for us. In “Truth Ain’t Hard to Find” he finally kicks his bad habit, his mortality creeping up on him: “Every day that’s passed is a day my body dies.”
The value of and search for truth is entrenched in these songs. He confronts it head-on in the soft and sweet album opener, “Private Window,” a tune that lives somewhere between disenchantment and acceptance. “You can exit your private screen / Open a window and hear ‘Let It Breathe,’” he sings in somewhat complacent recollection of his former band Water Liars’ hit. “That was a long time ago / But man, it was a hell of a song.” In the driving “Spiritual Genocide” Bryant realizes he can’t outrun the truth, and in “Lying on the Road” he remembers a darker time, traveling the country in a “busted out old van” lying to himself about who he was. Bryant’s low and slow approach to these tunes, vocally and in his heavy guitar arrangements, serves them well. After all, making a change in your life is a marathon, not a sprint.