Nashville in the 70’s was a place of wandering, dusty minstrels tripping into town from distant small towns with little more than cheap guitars, grand dreams and a reverent yet defiant attitude regarding the power structure of Nashville music industry. The ripples where felt and absorbed back into the system and the result was the “Urban Cowboy” era. This was not an innovative time. Now that Music Row has again fell into lockstep with the sound of the cash register the bustling community of East Nashville is rekindling those early days.
In many respects Cory Branan’s “The No-Hit Wonder,” is the face of this rekindled spirit. Smart, sonic landscapes offering a deep stratum that delivers a bounty of country, pop (“Missing You Fierce”) and Southern soul (“Missing You Fierce”) gems as each song is sifted through. The record also benefits from having some of the finest backing musicians working – John Radford (Justin Townes Earle, Luella and The Sun), Sadler Vaden (The 400 Unit, Drivin and Cryin), Audley Freed (The Black Crowes) and Robbie Turner (Waylon Jennings, Charlie Rich.) as well as being supported by some of Americana and indy rock’s best talent.
No better example of that is the opener “You Make Me” which features none other than Jason Isbell on back-up vocals. A song for his new bride it strikes a fine balance of romance, rock-heat with ear-worm hooks as Isbell provides just the right amount of guitar and vocal support.
The title cut recalls hard times for a troubadore that burns bright instead of belly-aches as Craig Finn & Steve Selvidge of The Hold Steady providing further retained support. “The Only You” Shows the nuance of Branan’s craft – “I hear you got another boy and he looks a lot like me / And this one come with some kind of guarantee / Well I got me another girl and she looks like you at 23 / And while she sleeps I trace the places where your tattoos used to be.” This playful poignancy is straight from the book of Kristofferson.
Branan vocal style like Ryan Bingham with better range. This is most apparent in the Bakersfield-by-way-of-Uncle-Tupelo “Sour Mash.” Another furiously paced number that wears it’s hillbilly pedigree proudly, featuring more subtle accompaniment by Tim Easton. “C’mon Shadow” is a ragtime jubilation masking heartbreak that’ll have you tapping a toe and crying in your beer.
“All The Rivers In Colorado” is pure jukebox gold. A barroom weeper of tears and waterways made even more delightful with Caitlin Rose and Austin Lucas lending background vocals. “Daddy Was A Skywriter” is a Cajun-spiced tune about finding your way in this world with the guidance and love from mama and daddy.
“The No-Hit Wonder” is a work both expansive in influence as it is grounded in history. Smart song-craft, road-tested instinct of instrumentation and an ear for the attentive hook is it’s flesh and bone. This is not a stright-up country record in contemporary or classic terms. Its an Americana record – and all that comes with that gloriously, messy label.
And a damn fine one at that.