“I don’t need no rhinestone suit, someone else can hang
it on the wall/I don’t need the marquee sign, I don’t need my
name in lights.”
That’s Ryan Bingham rejecting the trappings of Nashville
stardom and opting to follow the Outlaw trail blazed by forefathers
like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt.
At the age of 31, Ryan Bingham has already weathered a lot.
Throughout his childhood he endured a nomadic existence, moving
from one Texas town to the next. By his teens, Bingham was
bull-riding on the rodeo circuit. But music was always a passion.
By 2007, and at 26, Bingham released his debut, Mescalito on the
Lost Highway label. (Home to iconoclasts like Elvis Costello, Lucinda
Williams, Lyle Lovett and Shelby Lynne).
Both his debut and his excellent sophomore effort, Roadhouse
Sun were produced by Black Crowes’ guitarist Marc Ford. Between
his whiskey-soaked vocals and rough-hewn songs, Bingham displayed
a hard earned wisdom that belied his years.
His real brush with notoriety came when producer T-Bone
Burnett asked Bingham to provide music for the Jeff Bridges film,
“Crazy Heart.” Bingham contributed the achingly tough and tender
tune, “The Weary Kind.” Not only did Bridges win an Academy award
for Best Actor, but Bingham won Best Song.
Bingham and Burnett racked up enough studio time to
release his third and most successful record to date, Junky Star.
Now Ryan Bingham is back with his new album, Tomorrowland.
Not only has he produced this effort himself, but it’s also self-released
through his Axster Bingham record label.
The album kicks off with the bristling “Beg For Broken Legs.”
A biting indictment of the record industry, the track blends cascading
acoustic riffs with prickly electric fills. Locking into a cyclonic groove,
the song crescendos with a dramatic “Kashmir” style string section.
Bingham has always been an introspective writer, but a few
songs on Tomorrowland examine real life worries and question
“Flower Bomb” is a tone poem camouflaged as working-man
blues. A loping rhythm and strumming acoustic guitar accent the
forlorn lyrics…”How in the world can we progress, if we’re out of
work and hooked on pills for stress?”
Anchored by a relax-fit Tom Tom beat, “Rising Of
The Ghetto” builds slowly with fluttery but powerful guitar notes
that recall Richie Haven’s “Freedom.” The lyrics are caustic but
resigned…”Watching the home team kill our American dream/and
keep us at arm’s reach in case there’s a war to feed.”
Finally, Bingham lays his cards on the table with “No
Help From God.” Over a shuffling rhythm and high-lonesome guitar
he insists that faith in a higher power is a fool’s game: “Sometimes
the truth is scared of the dark.” Ultimately love provides the real
The best songs on Tomorrowland are playful one
minute and plaintivel the next. “Guess Who” swaggers and struts,
matching jagged power chords and a bludgeoning back beat.
On “Never Far Behind” Bingham worries that the
sins of the father will be revisited on the son…”How many times
can I try and forget (forgive) you, but you always on my mind/
I’ve tried so far to out run you, but you are never far behind.”
A spiraling guitar solo builds to a soaring crescendo that mirrors
Bingham’s crisis of conscience.
Cocooned in a galloping beat and sweetly zig-zagging
guitar riffs, “Neverending Show” puts Nashville on notice. Bingham
scorns the rhinestone, glitter and trophies. Instead he embraces
the Roadhouses and Dive bars that have become his home(s)
away from home.
Other highlights of Tomorrowland include that wide
open spaces of “Keep It Together,” the jangly “Western Shore”
which rails against “Twisted hypocrites.” Both “Heart Of Rhythm”
and “The Road I’m On” serve as kinetic, frenetic and rollicking
paeans to a life making music on the road.
The album closes with “Too Deep To Fill,” a Woody
Guthrie-esque ramble that re-works the old adage (also evoked
by the R & B girl group, En Vogue), “Free your mind and the
rest will follow!
Tomorrowland is Bingham’s most assured effort to
date. He shares this triumph with his crack backing band,
Matt Sherrod on drums and Shawn Davis on Bass.
Contributing to the rich sound here is Keith Ciancia on Keys,
Justin Stanley on Drums, Guitar, Piano, Mellotron, and Bass,
Richard Bowden on Fiddle and studio MVP Greg Leisz on
Guitar and Mandolin.
Much like Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle, to
Ryan Bingham the political is personal. But like Willie and Waylon,
Bingham never proselytizes to make his point. Luckily these
dueling musical philosophies coalesce, and the result is both
infectious and inspiring.


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