Roadhouse Sun by Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses

CD Review
Title: Roadhouse Sun
Artist: Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses
Label: Lost Highway
Released: 2009
Stars: 4.0

I saw the brilliant movie Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal yesterday and it changed my life a little bit. Discovering a new artist that rocks you to your very foundation and connects with your spirit is a rare thing, but Ryan Bingham, who sings the Golden Globe winning, Oscar nominated song, The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart), co-written by Bingham and T-Bone Burnett, has done just that. With his beautiful doe eyes, old soul, and whiskey & cigarettes voice, he’s grabbed my attention and won’t let go.

Last year, Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses released their second album for Lost Highway RecordsRoadhouse Sun – to positive critical reviews. Bingham, although born in New Mexico, calls Austin, Texas home and as that’s a place I’ve spent a bit of time in on and off since 1985, it fostered my love for roots rock that’s peppered with country, Cajun, and blues.

Ryan, a former rodeo and roadhouse performer, and his accomplished band: Corby Schaub (guitar & mandolin), Matt Smith (drums) and newest member, Elijah Ford (bass) have released a 12 track collection of personal, political, hard-living, superior country cross-over songs on Roadhouse Sun. Imagine a cocktail mixed with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and Kris Kristofferson and you will have an idea of the flavor of this offering. Influenced by Waylon Jennings, Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett and Jerry Jeff Walker, among others, Bingham sounds like someone much older than his 28 years and doesn’t hesitate to offer up his personal, painful experiences for the sake of his songwriting. Thoughtful, honest lyrics punctuate authentic, enthusiastic southwestern melodies and while some of his lyrics may be somewhat clichéd, Bingham’s voice will hold you enslaved.

Roadhouse Sun is an album with style and substance and it opens with Day Is Done, a slide steel rocker infused with wailin’ blues, followed by Dylan’s Hard Rain, an alt-country-folk-rock political anthem for these times that pays tribute to the 60s. Tell My Mother I Miss Her So is a foot-stomping, barn-burner of a folk ditty and Country Roads, a harmonica-laced highway rocker. The slightly Spanish, sparse acoustic ballad Snake Eyes features a bittersweet vocal performance akin to Bingham’s on The Weary Kind and is one of my favourites. Change Is has been described as “seven minutes of meditative, hypnotic riffing that builds to a near-psychedelic crescendo as Bingham spins his tale of empowerment and responsibility”, but it’s not my favourite track on the album. I prefer the slower tempo, piano and steel guitar stylings of the Rollin’ Highway Blues and the humourous political rant, Hey Hey Hurray.

For me, this quote says it all:

Smokey and yearning, Bingham’s songs of border-town heartbreak tremble like living, breathing things- Epic yet intimate, rugged but crafted, Bingham forces you to hang on his every whiskey-drenched word. – Matt Diehl, BlackBook

I’d really love to see Ryan team up with Jack White to write some songs because I think that pairing could inspire some explosive thunderbolts of musical genius. If he doesn’t succumb to the bottle that almost swallowed Bad Blake whole in Crazy Heart, Ryan Bingham has one helluva future ahead of him and I want to bear witness to it.

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