Life is hard. Some days feel like a tough ride on a bucking horse that has had it with people getting on its back. Other days string together indistinguishable from one another, creating desolate stretches of loneliness. Ryan Bingham captures the grit and determination of desperate lives in a dozen beautiful dusty tales of woe. Bingham has the credentials to back up his songs. The 29 year old has been living on his own since his mid teens, working the rodeo, listening to border music, and playing his own songs in local bars in Texas. His first two albums caught the attention of the Americana music community and, earlier this year, he won an Oscar for his song “The Weary Kind.”
Bingham follows up that success by re-teaming with producer T. Bone Burnett, who also produced the Academy Award winning The Crazy Heart soundtrack. Junky Star was recorded in just 3 days and its straight-forward, no frills approach spurns excess. Guitar, bass, drums, mandolin, and harmonica are all the instrumentation you get. Burnett’s approach to producing this record is to step back and let the story and the storyteller take center stage. Bingham sings with a voice so weary and raw it seems to lean against the words for support. His phrasing is full of resignation that occasionally flairs up in fits of passion.His songs offer all the explanation you need to understand his exhaustion.
“The Poet” could be a synopsis of Bingham’s life. A road-weary poet stands witness to forlorn lives, eventually winning his wisdom from his own scrapes with survival. Other tracks play out this theme including “The Wandering” “Hard Worn Trail,” and “Lay My Head On the Rail.” “Depression” could pass for a Springsteen tune circa 1978. A man worn threadbare by economic hardships finds his salvation in the love of a woman. “Hallelujah” offers another kind of salvation. The song’s character is murdered during a robbery. Despite all his earthly hardships the ghost struggles to let go his life. "Direction of the Wind" is a nod to current politics and will remind many of Dylan.
Bingham’s characters are mostly unmoored and in search of direction or purpose. Come to think of it, Bingham’s musical persona could pass for a younger version of Bad Blake, Jeff Bridges character in the movie “Crazy Heart.” Even in the depths of misery Bingham won’t give up on hope. Among the ashes the embers burn.