When it comes to stetson wearing country singers Ryan Bingham is the real thing. He spent years living out of his truck working on the rodeo and his rasping vocals tell the story of a hard worked life. Theres no glitz and glamour here and his music shows that. Bingham isn’t a Nashville darling, he doesn’t play the pop country game, he’s never played the Opry and, oh, he’s won an Oscar. All of these facts just point to one thing – this guy is the real deal.
After Bingham’s last album ‘Tomorrowland’ was released he went on a tour which he describes as being one of the worst he’s been on. Having lost his parents to illness and suicide ‘Tomorrowland’ was a true reflection of the place the talented singer was in. For this latest release Bingham rented an Airstream caravan and took himself off to the Californian hills to write in solitude. After the first couple of days brought nothing but frustration the songs on ‘Fear and Saturday Night’ began to take shape and created an album which couldn’t be further away from it’s predecessor.
The record opens with ‘Nobody Knows About My Troubles’ which is a song that sets the tone nicely for the whole album. The acoustic guitar chugs along with slide guitar and other instruments whining away in the background. On top of this we are welcomed to the record by Bingham’s unmistakably raspy vocals. Although the title of the song suggests it’s going to be a downbeat number Bingham in fact sings “nobody knows about my troubles except for my baby and me”.
‘Broken Heart’ tattoos opens with a blasting and upbeat harmonica part. It’s a song written from the perspective of a father-to-be giving advice to his child. The song is a hopeful nod to the future from Bingham. Before recording this album he found out that he was due to be a father for the first time – considering the awful pain he went through in the lead up to ‘Tomorrowland’ we can already tell we are listening to a song writer who is in a completely different place.
The third track on the album is ‘Top Shelf Drug’. It opens with a fuzz drenched guitar riff which wouldn’t go amiss on a Black Keys album – interestingly enough Bingham has recently stated he would love to work with Dan Auerbach. Again, the theme of the song is positive as Bingham sings ‘You shot me up baby with a wonderful love’. It’s a real foot stomper of a song that will no doubt pack a punch live – especially with the bluesy guitar solo.
‘Islands in the Sky’ is another forward looking song. The rousing chorus of the song and top drawer instrumentation make it a quality song. ‘Adventures of You and Me’ kicks off with Bingham saying “Uno, Dos, Tres, Quattro…” in a way which initially reminded me of U2 but a lot more convincing. This is without doubt a reminder of Bingham’s early music from the ‘Mescalito’ album and is the fastest moving song on the album. The driving guitars and dancing accordian make it one of my favourite songs on the album.
The title track ‘Fear and Saturday Night’ is a slow and thoughtful waltz about the world we live in. Bingham sings of ‘the devil on the corner’ and how he doesn’t fear anyone but himself. Having struggled with addiction in the past this could well be a look back at the times he has come through. The chorus line ‘it’s Saturday night and I’m going to town’ feels like a more grown up version of the typical new-country songs about going out on a weekend.
Next up ‘Diamond Is Too Rough’ opens with jangling guitars and perhaps hints towards his life outside of the country mainstream world. Line such as “It’s all about the money son, your diamond is too rough” suggest the barriers that Bingham has come up against in his career. It’s true that Bingham will never fit in with the ‘in crowd’ of country music but this would mean sacrificing far too much of his genuine sound. This song has another beautiful and haunting guitar solo again showing the great musical talent on show on this record.
‘Radio’ could be perceived as another dig at the standard of modern music. Bingham sings “my radio makes me want to just lose my head” which is something that I for one can agree with. ‘Snow falls in June’ is a beautiful piece of music which is cut through by Bingham’s warm vocals and conveys a desperation in it’s change in tempo in the chorus.
‘Darlin’ is another sparse song written for a woman. ‘Hands Of Time’ is a great upbeat song with a happily jamming guitar in the verse jumping in to a loud and proud chorus. Again, this song is a great example of the fantastic musicianship shown on the album.
‘Gun Fightin Man’ closes out the album and kicks in with a guitar and harmonica instrumental section. It ends the album on real outlaw country note with it’s lyrics about loss and death.
1. Nobody Knows My Troubles
2. Broken Heart Tattoos
3. Top Shelf Drug
4. Islands In The Sky
5. Adventures of You and Me
6. Fear and Saturday Night
7. Diamond is Too Rough
9. Snow Falls In June
11. Hands of Time
12. Gun Fightin’ Man
Ryan Bingham is back with a bang on this album. Not since his second album ‘Roadhouse Sun’ has he sounded so upbeat and positive. Having gone through the hard times in life he seems to be coming out on the other side stronger than ever. The album offers a nice mix of slow, fast and mid-tempo songs and his rasping vocals never become tiresome. Although I’m classing this as a Country album there are of course strong hints of Americana as well as some nods to rock and blues music. It’s probably not an album that will sell well with fans of Florida Georgia Line or Cole Swindell for example but it was never meant to be. When people talk of ‘Outlaw Country’ this is what I hear. He’s not a Nashville poster boy and, for all the right reasons, never will be. Many people may know Bingham from his small role in the film ‘Crazy Heart’ and his Oscar for the song ‘The Weary Kind’ from the same movie – those who do should check this album out for an example of just what else he can do. My only criticism is that the album doesn’t tend to have too many catchy songs that you just can’t get out of your head or stop listening to but maybe that’ll come with time. The most important thing about it for me is that the whole album just feels heartfelt and passionate.
Nobody Knows My Troubles, Adventures of You and Me, Fear and Saturday Night, Hands of Time
Six Shooter Rating