Fear and Saturday Night
(Axster Bingham Records)
4 out of 5 stars
Most listeners probably thought Ryan Bingham would stroll down easy street after winning an Oscar, Grammy, Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice awards for his 2010 song “The Weary Kind,” prominently featured in the film Crazy Heart. After all, how many once obscure singer/songwriters have notched that sort of critical acclaim for a single tune?
But nothing can be taken for granted in the music business. After leaving major label Lost Highway for whom he recorded three well received albums, Bingham ditched his long-time Dead Horses band and self-released 2012’s often sprawling and ornery Tomorrowland in an attempt to distance himself from the corporate machinery. He also took the production reins to get closer to the sound in his head.
On this similarly conceived follow-up, he brings in co-producer/engineer Jim Scott (Wilco/Grace Potter) to assist with the technical side. Between predominantly shorter, tighter arrangements and rugged, melancholy songs, Bingham is inspired and introspective on these twelve gems. He rocks out with abandon on the grungy, grinding “Top Shelf Drug,” the Bo Diddley inflected “Hands of Time” and the swampy “Radio,” the latter feeling somewhat like early Little Feat. When a track as strong as the sweet, contemplative love song “Snow Falls in June” with its sing-along chorus is tucked away as the ninth of a dozen selections, it’s clear Bingham has written some of his finest, most emotionally revealing material while squirreled away in his airstream trailer in the California mountains.
His dusty, dusky, whiskey imbued voice makes even the most unassuming lyrics seem profound and soulful. Story songs such as the Guy Clark tinted “Nobody Knows My Trouble,” a dark yet bouncy, seemingly autobiographical tale of his redemption through music (“it didn’t take long for the pills and the bottom of a bottle/to dig a deep grave with a shovel and bury everything that a young boy needs/But I found me a guitar…”) show lyrical dexterity even in their bleakest moments. Scott helps keep the instrumentation stripped down on the gloomy title track but isn’t shy to open it up on the peppy, accordion drizzled Tex-Mex/Sir Douglas vibe of “Adventures of You and Me.”
Ryan Bingham could have capitalized on his surprising award streak to lasso in a larger audience. But instead he took a different, more honest path. He hasn’t run from success as much as escaped its grip to release music that’s honest, raw and comes straight from the heart.