Graham Reid | | 1 min read
The name "Ryan Bingham" has been getting a lot of eartime recently -- it was the name of George Clooney's character in the movie Up in the Air.
But more importantly in the real world it belongs to one of the most interesting Americana singer-songwriters of the past deacde -- the man who picked up an Oscar for his song The Weary Kind in the film Crazy Heart (in which he also played a small part).
Bingham first appeared at Elsewhere in 2008 with Mescalito (a Best of Elsewhere 2008 album), then last year with his slightly patchy Roadhouse Sun album in which the volume was cranked up in places -- and might have alienated those who prefer his more marble-gargling, whisky-stained vocals.
The band are kept on a more tight leash for Junky Star as Bingham once again aligns himself with the rootless and restless, and the dispossessed -- literally, on the title track (which could have dropped off Springsteen's Nebraska) which is about someone who lost the farm to the bankers and ends up homeless in LA alongside the junkies and former stars of Hollywood.
Produced by T Bone Burnett, this live-sounding album lets Bingham's evocative, hard-times narratives breathe and that sandpaper'n'bourbon delivery brings every one of these homes hard: "The poet writes his songs in blood" he sings on the opener, and you sense that many of these astutely observed lyrics have been lived in his imagination in an America where the young are shipped out to their fate in the Middle East and promise is left to die on the sun-bleached streets of LA.
One part Steve Earle, another slice of Woody Guthrie (on Depression) and a touch of early Dylan and recent Springsteen's social conscience don't take anything away from Bingham still sounding exactly like himself.