- Cory Branan
The first few seconds of “The Corner” – the opening cut on Cory Branan’s new album Mutt – give you fair warning of what’s to come. The tune begins with a handful of almost-happy fingerpicked guitar notes … but there’s a bit of gum stuck to the bottom of the shoe, giving the rhythm a slight lurch; another pass at the riff burbles along for a few smiley seconds before taking a momentary tact in a minor-flavored direction – and then skitters back on course.
It’s like watching a half-drunk tightrope walker – an audio Buster Keaton, for sure. It’s all part of the package, though: Cory Branan finds the beauty in life’s lurches, sways, stumbles, and stivvers. He doles out just exactly what you’ve felt in words you wish you’d come up with – simple, yet perfect words.
And he knows just how to lay ‘em down:
Down on the corner of what I want
And what I tend to get
Day-drinking and dreaming of you I
Let the ashtray smoke my last cigarette
sings Branan in the closing moments of “The Corner”. The words alone would do it; his delivery – the croaking “cigarette” – seals the deal, instantly laying a bit of grit in your eye and ache in your heart.
The good ones can do it to you with just the right line: John Prine, for one.
Cory Branan, for another.
The ragged troubadour of “The Corner” is a well-Westerberged punk by the next track (“Survivor Blues”); morphs into Tom-Petty-meets-the-E-Street-Band for “Bad Man”; and sounds like Wilco climbing Magnolia Mountain by the album’s fourth cut (the lovely “Darken My Door”, featuring shimmering pedal steel by Tom Heyman). Mutt indeed – four songs in and the album’s eclectic nature might have overpowered a lesser artist, but Branan is the glue that holds it all together. All of the above are a perfect fit for his truths and the big pictures they paint.
The Tom Petty reference above isn’t a reach, by the way – there’s a syllable-bending thing that Branan does throughout Mutt that will remind you of T.P. Of course, there’s also the way he might snap out words like a young John Cougar (Mellencamp) (whatever) (you know) – put an ear to “Yesterday” and see what you think. And there’s the the straight-from-the-heart growl that surfaces now and then that’s one pack of Chesterfields away from vintage Tom Waits; oddly enough, it’s more apparent on the dark lullaby “There There, Little Heartbreaker” than it is on the totally Waitsian twisted tango of “The Snowman”.
I need to ease up on the comparisons, methinks. Without Mutt to put an ear to, this is going to sound like an all-over-the-map effort with no direction home. That couldn’t be further from the truth, however. Cory Branan wears his tunes and words well – and the various forms they take on the way out of him are a function of the tales they tell. And it all feels real and raw and right.
Muckle onto Mutt.