By James Calemine
“We’re playing rock and roll. This ain’t no country band,” Ryan Bingham told me as he sat in a club in Luckenbach, Texas, waiting for soundcheck for that evening’s show earlier this month. His sentiment eludes those who wish to pigeonhole his music. Roadhouse Sun counts as Ryan Bingham’s sophomore release. Like his first CD-Mescalito-Roadhouse Sun was produced by Marc Ford. Expectations for a vital follow up to the debut run high, and these 12 tracks do not disappoint. I asked Marc Ford about the difference between Bingham’s first and second albums. “I think the record as a whole—songwriting and sound-wise, is a great step forward from the first one. It’s a storyteller’s record.”
Bingham is no rich Texas punk wearing $800 cowboy boots singing about places he’s never seen. Bingham worked the rodeo circuit in West Texas as well as sang songs in the streets to earn money. This merciless lifestyle caused him to literally to break bones, lose teeth and move from town to town. His songs paint stark images of country roads, desert plains and tales of a wandering spirit.
“Day Is Done” indicates Bingham intends to keep his music on rock and roll side of the tracks. At the end of the day, Bingham was still born a “bad man’s son”. Bingham’s band sounds cohesive after two years of road running. Of course, Ford’s playing an “assortment of the guitars, bass, vocals, and piano” only contribute to the CD’s overall snakebite.
“Dylan’s Hard Rain” contains a melodic British-pop in the mix, yet still retains a sharp-edged Texas grit. “Tell My Mother That I Miss Her So” proves why Bingham possesses a direct pipeline to the workingman’s heart or the displaced soul, which provides hope in dismal economic or spiritual poverty.
“Country Roads” rides between the lines of where country intersects with rock and roll since the song’s strength resides in its crossover appeal. Bingham told me about this song, “It’s the oldest song on the new CD. I wrote that when I was 19, homeless, living in my truck. The newest one’s are ‘Dylan’s Hard Rain’ and ‘Endless Ways’.”
“Bluebird” ranks as one of Bingham’s finest tunes. Marc Ford revealed the song almost didn’t make the album because they couldn’t get it right—what a gem. This song—like all the tracks—sound great on headphones. Sonically the musical changes appeal to the senses. Bingham is almost talking on “Snake Eyes”, which imprints poetic landscapes alongside the accompanying acoustic guitar.
“Endless Ways”, a side-winding rocker, was written over the Bush administration’s politics. For this writer, “Change Is” emerges as the centerpiece composition on this CD. Ford’s obvious direction conjures a mean rock and roll song. “Rollin’ Highway Blues” strips down Bingham’s music that verifies his unwavering compositional force. “Hey Hey Hurray” contains quicksilver banjo licks, whereas “Roadhouse Blues” personifies the West Texas shit-kicker ditty that should be a hit on the country charts.
“Wishing Well” closes the CD with an indigo mood embellished by Ford’s sad-hearted guitar twangs. Roadhouse Sun offers a clear glimpse into Bingham’s diamond mine songbook as he begins his ascent in this strange musical rodeo…