Thursday, December 2, 2010

Album Review - Ryan Bingham Junky Star

This review is part of the "Over Flow" Review Series. For various reasons these past reviews were not published anywhere else. I am tagging them as "Overflow Reviews" and may add some extra information after if needed but I will keep the ratings and reviews just as I originally wrote them. Enjoy:
Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses
Junky Star
*** out of *****
Lost Highway Records does a good job of catching those voices that are wandering the Southern Midwest, singing the songs of heartlands and heartbreak in a uniquely country way.  Junky Star continues that tradition that dates back to even before there were highways; expressing the stories that ramble around the heart, head and home.

After Ryan Bingham won the Oscar for Best Song last year with "Weary Heart" fans and critics alike were afraid he would instantly "sell-out" or "Go Hollywood" but he has done neither of those; he made a record that relaxes in his singing and simple musical phrases.  Binghams' vocals and songwriting are his main tools and he ply's them craftily throughout, he borrows from everyone (like most good ones do) and he manages not to get caught being too much of an imitator. Rather then a whiskey soaked country hero Ryan seems to be trying to channel his western Bob Dylan, getting a touch more nasally then raspy on tracks like "The Wandering" and working out some of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska's weariness on "Yesterday's Blues".  On one of the albums highlights, the opening track "The Poet", Bingham sings, "As I keep walkin, people keep talking/About things they never seen or done" he tries to do the opposite with Junky Star focusing on what he knows, traveling, honky-tonks and loneliness.

The Dead Horses back him admirably but aren't asked to do much of anything as the tempo never raises above a mini-shake via "Direction of the Wind"; the tone is consistent throughout and it is more Junkie then Star.  The disk closing "All Choked Up Again" seems to just nod off rather then wrap things up and at over 6 minutes it doesn't do much to stand out from the rest.  Rather then getting "glossy tinsel-town'ed up", Bingham seems to have done the opposite and go bland, slow, alt-country for a bunch of tracks here, not the best of signs.  A mixing up of pace and tempo would make for a better overall listen, but Bingham seems content to travel along while showcasing the songs that will hopefully stick around long after that Oscar stops shining.     

Like most good country albums the artist who produces them always seems to be more concerned with the individual songs then the album as a whole, it just seems to be how the genre works.  Bingham follows this along, but more variety or a bit of energy might draw in more ears, then again though that doesn't seem to be his slightest concern; he is writing because he has the songs in him and god bless him.

I think in the end I won't turn Junky Star off when one of the songs pop up on Shuffle but as a full listen it does lag in multiple places, then again Alt-Country, Outlaw Country, Americana, whatever you want to label this sound has always done it this why, so why change?  Some tunes for you to peruse:
"The Poet" Live:

 "Depression" Live and Soooo much better then the studio version!

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