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Bingham gets personal with "American Love Song"...again

By Brian Baker, May 2019

A lot of the early reviews for "American Love Song," Ryan Bingham's latest set of raucous and reflective Americana brilliance, have characterized it as the singer/songwriter's most personal album to date. That hardly seems possible for someone who has written about everything - from his mother's death from alcoholism to his father's suicide - through an intensely personal lens.

Every album has been his most personal, and "American Love Song" may stand as the best within the context of Bingham's stunningly consistent and satisfying catalog. The idea that Bingham's new album is the most representative of his inwardly directed songwriting style is baffling to him as well. `

"Yeah, it always has been personal, from the beginning," says Bingham with a laugh. "For the past couple of years, I've been doing a lot of acoustic shows where I sit down and play the songs solo, and I've started opening up and telling a lot of the stories about the songs and why I wrote them. Maybe people are starting to connect with the songs in different ways and realizing how personal they are from hearing the stories along with them, but I'm not necessarily sure why anyone would think this is more personal than something I've written before."

Ryan Bingham sings

"It's always been the process of it and the reason why I got into writing songs in the first place. If anything, I've tried to have more of an outward look as I've gotten older. When I was younger, it tended to be about what I was going through personally and looking in at what I was going through, and these days, it's looking at what everyone else is going through as well and those common experiences that we all share together."

With "American Love Song," Bingham balances his autobiographical songwriting style with a more global perspective and filters both through his natural storytelling gift. The intersection of those two viewpoints comes into clear focus with the realization that the bulk of Bingham's nomadic childhood and young adult life took place in New Mexico and Texas, which are now the primary battlegrounds for the Trump administration's war on immigration. In that light, it seems impossible for Bingham to avoid writing his panoramic songs from a distinctly personal place.

"I was a young kid, moving around a lot, going to different schools and dealing with bullies, having to fight a lot," recalls Bingham. "Everytime you go somewhere new, the new guy tends to get it. But the new songs were also triggered by the March for Our Lives movement and the epidemic of gun violence and seeing these kids protest on the streets, seeing how apparent grown men and women were reacting to these kids who are standing up to the NRA and gun lobbyists to create some changes."

"I was taken aback by the rhetoric that people were using towards these kids, and that kind of triggered all those old emotions. That's just one example of how these songs are layered with my past and personal things, but also current events."

When Bingham began conceiving the parameters of what would become "American Love Song," he was in the midst of the aforementioned run of solo acoustic shows and envisioned the album as a balladic accompaniment to those songs and their corresponding stories.

As it happened, the songs dredged up old memories and emotions that necessitated a more forceful presentation, from the roadhouse choogle of "Jingle and Go" to the glammy roots rock buzz of "Nothing Holds Me Down," in addition to the bluesy acoustic hush of "Beautiful and Kind" and the loping folk rock lilt of "Lover Girl." The sonic direction shifted when Bingham recalculated his perspective.

"When I set out, I was looking at the album as a whole, as a concept, and I was overwhelmed thinking about the whole thing, so I told myself, 'You've got to think about one song at a time,'" says Bingham. "I was telling these stories about the songs and where I came from, and I started writing things down just to remember them, and it really triggered ideas for songs. It became this reflective process of the world around me. It's always tended to do that, but maybe more so on this record."

Bingham's intensely personal writing style often results in work that is difficult for him to translate to his performances. Case in point, "The Weary Kind," the song that Jeff Bridges sang with craggy sincerity in the 2009 film "Crazy Heart," and which pegged Bingham's Q Rating when he won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Grammy for penning the tune.

That heady period made Bingham the poster child for the universal experience of great good fortune being tempered with inconceivable loss; he lost his mother to complications from a lifetime of alcoholism the year before the winning streak for "The Weary Kind," and his father took his own life the year after.

"It wasn't quite the party everybody thought it was," says Bingham. "I was honored and humbled by it, but at the same time, they were some pretty fucking heavy times. That was definitely one I had a hard time singing. I didn't sing it for a long time after that. I really wrote that song about my old man, and people were upset because they'd come to the shows, and I'd never sing that song. They were all fired up but they didn't know what was going on so I couldn't blame them for that."

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