Ryan Bingham is a wanderer with a whiskey-soaked voice. His family moved several times, from Hobbs, New Mexico, to Spring and Stephenville, Texas, and he ended up in California. In his late teens he left home and began working as a bull rider in the rodeo circuit. Recently he had to deal with the tragic death of his mother and father – the first from alcohol, the second by suicide.
He is an artist who began singing and playing because he needed money, even though he didn’t believe in his skills as a songwriter. His mother gave him his first guitar when he was 16, but he started playing it much later. He garnered critical acclaim for his first two major label albums, 2007’s Mescalito and 2009’s Roadhouse Sun, produced by Marc Ford of The Black Crowes. He then went on to collaborate with legendary American musician T Bone Burnett on the soundtrack for 2009’s movie Crazy Heart, co-writing and performing the theme song The Weary Kind, which earned him an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy. T Bone Burnett also produced Junky Star, Bingham’s relentlessly dark third record, out in 2010, followed by another gloriously gloomy album, 2012’s Tomorrowland, inspired by the deaths of Bingham’s parents.
After less than 3 years, the Americana songwriter’s fifth album, Fear and Saturday Night, strikes a totally different atmosphere. It is mainly a love record, dedicated to Bingham’s wife, video-maker Anna Axster, and to the upcoming birth of their first child. At times it is heart wrenching (Darling, a slow, essential and almost whispered ballad whose lyrics go “Darling, hold me tonight/ Never let your fire down/ ‘Cos I don’t wanna lose my way/ /Here I can no longer stay without you”), at other times it rocks (the upbeat country of Adventures of you and me, whose lyrics remind me of John Lennon’s God when the narrator says “The adventures of you and me will last forever/ I’m not too sure about this world” – do you remember the famous verse, “I just believe in me/ Yoko and me/Much reality”?). The first track, Nobody Knows My Trouble, is an involving autobiographical tale, which retraces Bingham’s whole story in just 4 minutes. Broken Heart Tattoos is a lulling tune, while the following Top Shelf Drug is a sexy and bluesy love song that makes me think of Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. Musically the record isn’t too complicated, with simple arrangements that make the ragged narrating voice stand out. The result is a powerful record that has 50 shades of love in it. You better check it out.