Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fear and Saturday Night, by Ryan Bingham (Album of the Week)

Choosing Ryan Bingham’s album “Fear and Saturday Night” to review this week was an easy call.  Through a happy series of lucky breaks, we saw him in 2009 at a small basement club in Breckenridge with a small group of devoted fans who kept handing him and his band shots of whiskey.  He repaid us all with high-energy, country-influenced bar rock and I-don’t-remember-how-many-encores.  During one of the breaks between encores, I was taking a leak while the drummer was at the next urinal.  The guitar sound started up again, and the drummer said, “He’s having a great time.  We’re gonna play all night.” 

In the next few months, his song “The Weary Kind” from the Jeff Bridges movie “Crazy Heart” won an Oscar, and the following summer we saw him at Red Rocks performing with Willie Nelson.  It was a big shift in one year, and recalling that first show is one of my favorite concert memories. Robin and I fell in love with him that first night, and, over at Deliberate Obfuscation, Robin fairly swoons in her pleasure brought on by this romantic album.

Some great performers are unable to translate their showmanship to a recording.  (I’m looking at you, Paul Thorn), but Ryan Bingham has the musical chops to give you a great experience that makes you feel like you’re at a show.  His gravelly, raspy voice makes every lyric sound like it’s been written after a shot of cheap bourbon after a long drive in the night.  Every now and then, you’ll hear me complain that a given artist needs a little grit  - Ryan Bingham has truckloads of the grit I’m asking for. 

If it weren’t for the grit, this album might be an unbearable helium balloon of Disney songs.  Appropriately for a review on Valentine’s Day weekend, Ryan Bingham has fallen in love, created a family, set his demons aside, and written a thrillingly upbeat album.  Better yet, he presents it in his classic, guitar-driven, gravelly style, and it makes for some really enjoyable music.

It’s hard to pick a favorite song on this album, but the opening track is a great place to start.  The title “Nobody Knows My Trouble” sounds like a classic down and dirty ballad, but, upon listening, you’re greeted with a suspiciously bouncy rhythm, and you learn that nobody knows about his troubles “except for my baby and me”.  With her, the song lets you know he’s been through poverty, drugs and alcohol, but the penultimate verse reports:

Made my way up to the big town
Checked myself into the lost and found
What do you know, my baby come for me
Now I'm living the good life
Away from all of the bad advice
I take every day like it's a paradise
So people stay away from me

Even better, though, this isn’t some bogus fairy tale where a good-hearted woman makes everything wonderful by showering infinite love and mercy on a road-weary man.  In the real world, it takes two to carry the load, and Ryan Bingham shoulders his part of the burden, too.  In “Snow Falls in June”, he assures his lover:

If you ever call my name, I'll come running
When your sorrow sings in pain, I'll be there
If you ever feel a change in your weather
Take shelter with me here

If you ever call my name, I'll come running
When your sorrow sings in pain, I'll be there
If you ever feel a change in your weather
Take shelter with me here
My dear
If the snow is falling in June

The song that really kicked me in the chest – in a good way – is one that comes across as a Tex-Mex, Los Lobos-influenced, accordion-playing rocker.  That’s not normally my favorite style of music, but it’s fun, fun, fun and the lyrics sum it all up for me.  “Adventures of You and Me” recounts a bunch of misadventures – getting stranded in New York, getting mixed up with stoners out West, passing out on a train in New Mexico, and so forth, but every time, they wind up dancing in the streets and having a ball.  Their love of each other and their love of music makes the whole world an adventure, fit for dancing. 

Adventures of you and me will last forever
I'm not too sure about this world
I hope someday it all comes together, baby
Until it does, well, I'm sure glad that you're my girl

Several years ago, Ryan Bingham gave Robin and me an adventure, dancing with abandon in a basement.  Adventures with Robin, listening to live music, will last forever in our memories, and that was a great one.  During the week of Valentine’s Day, I got to listen to Ryan Bingham put to music that feeling I have that I’ll always look forward to fresh adventures and misadventures with my girl. 

Next up:  I Love You, Honeybear, by Father John Misty

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