Being a Texas expat in New York City I love my time in the big city. There’s nowhere like it on Earth and the shows I catch in one 20 mile radius is unlikely anywhere else. But heat, dust and salsa run through my veins and I reach out for small things to ground me in my Native yearnings – Great Tex-Mex or BBQ, a local honky tonk, a stray pair of boots and Stetson walking on the West Side.
West Texas Native Ryan Bingham is a little slice of Texas, real Texas, for this Lone-Star-expat-in-New-York-City’s ears. The searing asphalt on an empty highway stretching ahead, throat-parching dust, Mexico at the margins, it’s all there if you close your eyes and listen.
For a man in his mid-twenties Bingham sounds like he’s lived well beyond his years. A live lived in hardship, family upheavals, poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, riding bulls in Monterey and brushing dangerously with the Mexican mafia – all the elements to build great songs, assuming you can survive it. Bingham’s musical influences came from absorbing teachings of an old mariachi player. Not to mention his indulgence in his uncle’s vast record collection, seeping up diverse influences like The Rolling Stones, The Marshall Tucker Band, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Commander Cody, Allman Brothers, Red Steagall, & The Band.
All the influenced are stewed up in to spicy, tasty effect on Mescalito.
The opener, Southside of Heaven sets the tone. Acoustic gallop, pedal steel cry, lonesome harmonica. With it’s refrain”When “I die lord, put my soul up on a train.” Hillbilly poetry!
The Other Side is a country rocker in the vein on Exile era Stones or the Faces complete with slinky slide guitar. Bread and Water starts like a cathedral piece but quickly kicks it into a bi-lingual Led Zep “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”-style slide-guitar and hand-clap driven song about seeing this great country from the ground up.
“Don’t Wait for Me ” Is a soulful dobro, mandolin laced study in loss where Bingham’s weathered voice really plays to full effect.
“Boracho Station” – Spanish influenced tale about the search for Mexican gold and “Sunshine” is a rousing hootenanny that also veers into big-rock-sound Led Zeppelin rock terrain featuring a nice slide guitar. Wailing Applachian-style fiddle waling throughout.
“Hard Times” sound like a song that might have been had The Band worked with of Crazy Horse to produce a blast of sound bootstrapping song about hard times and the nobility of self-respect.
The theme’s of Mescalito are not groundbreaking, but they’re also not trite. I’d take someone like Ryan Bingham and his crack band the Dead Horses (Matt Smith – Drums and Percussion, Corby Schaub – Electric Guitar, Mandolin, Kettle Drums and Background Vocals, Jeb Venable – Bass), with superb production by Marc Ford (ex-guitarist – Black Crows), interpreting influences like Billy Joe Shaver, Willie Nelson and Ray Wiley Hubbard than most pop-country acts interpreting nothing more profound or enduring as what sold a million unites of their last release. Every few years it takes the likes of Ryan Bingham to shame Nashville into facing what it chokes out of studios every day. Let’s hope they’re paying attention.
Ryan Bingham “On the Road”