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Ryan Bingham

American Love Song – 2019 (Axster Bingham)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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It seems like Ryan Bingham has only fallen up over the course of his 15-year career. A roommate's brother turned out to be a hobbyist drummer and became the foundation for Bingham's band, the Dead Horses. At an early gig, one of the few patrons at a nearly deserted bar was Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford, who offered to record Bingham, ultimately leading to a contract with Lost Highway and Ford's production on his first two albums for the label, 2007's "Mescalito" and 2009's "Roadhouse Sun." Bingham's next album, 2010's "Junky Star," was produced by T Bone Burnett, who brought Bingham into the writing process for an indie film he was working on; the film was "Crazy Heart" and the song that Bingham and Burnett co-wrote, "The Weary Kind," won them an Americana Music Award, a Grammy, a Golden Globe and an Oscar. That success spurred Bingham to start his own label with his wife, Anna Axster, which has issued his last four albums, including "American Love Song."

It's not particularly difficult to pinpoint Bingham's sonic range within the triangulated boundaries of Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams and Drive-By Truckers, within their varied electric/acoustic parameters, but the singular quality that Bingham brings to the party is a razor sharp songwriting sensibility that cuts through any comparisons.

On "American Love Story," Bingham continues to work a bluesy, rootsy Americana groove, exemplified by the Leon Russell-meets-John Lennon stomp and holler of "Jingle and Go," the bar boogie shiver shake of "Nothin' Holds Me Down," the Marc-Bolan-as-Cajun-gris-gris-rocker choogle of "Pontiac" and the snake charming slink of "Got Damn Blues."

At the same time, Bingham has an incredible facility for dialing down and stripping back, as on "Lover Girl" and "Wolves," which balance a largely acoustic presentation with powerful arrangements that land with the same impact as his full bore rock rave-ups. And, as usual, some of Bingham's most compelling moments are illuminated by nothing more than the singer, the song and his guitar; "Beautiful and Kind" and "America" are Piedmont blues and folk at their respective contemporary bests.

And finally, Bingham understands the elements that go into a successful pop song without compromising his creative vision; Jimmy Buffett could cover "Time for My Mind" into a substantial radio hit, which could be mirrored on the country side by Keith Urban or Blake Shelton taking on "What Would I've Become."

Of course, if Bingham had been interested in any of that, he would have played his hand with a major label and carouselled his way toward and past the elusive brass ring of fame. He has conclusively shown with each successive album since taking charge that his primary concern is exploring every musical possibility while writing heartfelt songs that explore the human condition without the artificial filter of commercial acceptance. Long may he run in that very direction.