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Published: 2014/09/30
by Brian Robbins

Cory Branan
The No-Hit Wonder

Bloodshot Records

The cool thing and the shame (sorta) about Cory Branan is he is what he is – a phrase which comes damn close to the hook of his latest album’s title track:

Sing a song for The No-Hit Wonder
Though it isn’t one of his
He’d sing, “Shovel me under
Boys, it is what it is”

It would be tempting to refer to the tune as autobiographical – with four solid albums under his belt, Branan’s name deserves wider recognition – but that’s not quite true.

The no-hitter in Branan’s song is pretty broke-down and road-weary, “just scraping a living blood to string” and ready to burrow into “his tunnel underground.” For sure, Branan himself has pounded out his share of road miles over the last couple of decades, but he also has built a significant catalog of his own songs to sing, thank you very much. With a wife and kids to dedicate his album to and the admiration and respect of fellow tunesmiths such as Jason Isbell, Tim Easton, Caitlin Rose, Austin Lucas, Craig Finn and Steve Selvedge (all of whom contribute vocals to The No-Hit Wonder ) things could be worse for Cory Branan … and it sounds like he knows it.

In the meantime, he’s laid down an album of tunes that combine the Everyman soul (and humor) of John Hiatt with Jay Farrar’s squint and shrug. He’s stirred in bits of Tom Petty hookiness and John Prine’s unique abilities to have you singing along by the second chorus. And he’s applied some dandy geetar (both greasy and sweet) in the appropriate places.

Regarding that geetar stuff: Branan himself is a multi-faceted picker who can gently break your heart with his fingertips and an acoustic – then turn around and rock the glazing right out of the window frames. Here Branan is joined by Saddler Vaden (from Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit), steel guitar master Robbie Turner and the amazing Audley Freed (another musician who deserves just 18 times more credit than he’s ever received) and the results are exactly what you might expect. There’s tons of hot-tube-and-raggedy-assed twangcrunch on songs such as “You Make Me” and “The Only You”; “Sour Mash” is a total chicka-chicka-boom, flat-to-the-floor rockabilly rave-up that won’t stop for nothin’; the title track combines a punk edginess with some legs-dangling-off-the-tailgate down-hominess; and Turner’s pedal steel is the perfect arrow to the heart that seals the deal on “All The Rivers In Colorado” and “The Highway Home”.

Elsewhere, there are scattered touches of just-rightness: Dave Cohen’s accordion gives “Daddy Was A Skywriter” its infectious bounce, while his piano provides the perfect soft-shoe-in-a-puddle-of-beer soul to the cabaret vibe of Branan’s “C’mon Shadow”. The various guest vocals mentioned earlier are applied sparingly and well, simply providing reinforcement to the emotions already established by Branan himself.

There’s ache of various flavors (“All I Got And Gone”; “Missing You Fierce”) but it’s never self-pitying – and even an ode to songwriter’s block (“Meantime Blues”) births brilliant love lines: “It’s gonna get cold girl, but I’m going gold with you.”

Tell you what, Mr. Branan: just keep ‘em coming. This here is some great music.

That hit thing will sort itself out.

*****

Brian Robbins dangles his legs off the tailgate over at www.brian-robbins.com

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