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Cory Branan

Adios – 2017 (Bloodshot)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Cory Branan

To call Cory Branan a country artist is akin to building a small and flimsy corral around a Triple Crown thoroughbred. On his previous four full-length albums, Branan turned Nashville into his own personal music laboratory, gene-splicing sonic ideas like a mad scientist with an extensive record collection. Throughout his catalog, particularly on his last album, 2014's "The No-Hit Wonder," Branan tapped into the experimental vibe of the '70s while referencing disparate icons like Waylon Jennings, Paul Westerberg, Warren Zevon, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Forbert, Husker Du, Fleetwood Mac, The Faces and Morrissey, among others, while dovetailing their gifts into his own unique musical vision and presentation.

On "Adios," Branan continues to stack his Nashville cocktail party with an impossibly eclectic array of influences and touchstones in the service of his literate and original songcraft. Fans shouldn't be concerned about the finality of the album's title; Branan has characterized "Adios" as his death record, but not necessarily in a literal sense, rather in the concept of the passage from one state of being into another and bidding a fond, and not so fond, farewell to the past, the present and even the future.

"Adios" leaps to life with "I Only Know," a gently careening Buddy Holly homage that, like its root influence, gets it done in 1:41 and features backing vocals from punk icons Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!) and Dave Hause (The Loved Ones). "Yeah, So What" and "Visiting Hours" mirror the angry young man stance of vintage Elvis Costello with roiling Farfisa and snarling lyrical accusations, "You Got Through" offers a drunken séance to raise the restless ghosts of Jennings and Zevon, and the guitar solos on the elegiac jazz-to-hard-rock "Cold Blue Morning" are an unlikely marriage of Mott the Hoople and Willie Nelson.

As usual, the appeal of "Adios" is Branan's masterful use of language and the surgical strike of the message conveyed with it (from the Van Morrisonesque "Imogene;" "We got to act on the embers, ash won't remember the way back to fire..."). Nowhere is that more evident than in the deceptively jaunty "Another Nightmare in America," a contemporary rewrite of the similarly titled and themed Los Lobos song where Branan looks through the eyes of a racist cop with a license to kill. "Adios" is the synthesis of everything Cory Branan does best, which is quite simply everything.