Cory Branan – The No-Hit Wonder (Bloodshot)
CD/ DL/ LP
Nashville’s Cory Branan returns with a shit-kicking album that finally seems set to deliver on his early promise.
At the start of the new millennium Cory Branan was tipped to be the biggest thing to happen in country rock since Willie Nelson put down the bong long enough to write a bunch of songs. He won a prestigious “newcomer of the year” award before he even had a recording contract and a few years later was playing live on the David Letterman show. Yet soon after that Branan seemingly fell off the edge of the fucking planet. Or at least according to the opening paragraph of his Wikipedia page.
But I first became accustomed with Branan after all of that, watching him open for Austin Lucas at a Leeds show. There was something else about him, something I’d been searching for since first finding as much satisfaction from the dulcet sounds of acoustic guitars as I was from the ear-shredding distortion I was used to. Branan was the middle line between the two, and was doing it somewhat unknowingly. While others attempted to lace the punk rock ethos into their unplugged tracks, Branan was merely espousing an honest and natural rebellion.
Instead of lacing his lyrics with “fuck the governments” all his aggression was being taken out on his poor, innocent, guitar. His playing style was sporadic and, quite frankly, insane. “I just decided one day I was gonna play like this…so I did” he told me in the same cool Tennessee twang that reverberates through every vocal melody he croons. I eagerly backtracked and listened to his previous records but, with the exception of the Jon Snodgrass split (Mutt hadn’t yet been released) and a few choice songs (Crush and Girl Named Go are good examples) this strange intensity was missing.
So it’s with joyful glee that The No-Hit Wonder, Branan’s latest LP, has the perfect combination of fitful guitar parts and lackadaisical vocal melodies that first drew me into the sounds of this Nashville songster.
The album opens with You Make Me, a song that musically would have fit comfortably on Lucero’s Women And Work record, and after twenty seconds the listener is fully emerged in the cocky and playful lyrical rhythms that emphasize the romantic sentiments within without seeming all “mushy”. In much the same way as the aforementioned Lucero, songs are often focused on love, or the lack thereof, but this never comes across as being, for want of a better phrase, soppy as fuck. These are love songs for the man who drinks a little too much on a nightly basis and falls in love with the girl working behind his favourite bar.
Romance isn’t always on the agenda, however. Unless I’m missing the metaphor, Sour Mash (a personal live favourite) is merely a homage to the famed distilling process, and the title track is a clear reflection of Branan’s own career with references to his hand to mouth existence and gigging from “east to west, north to south” which he humbly shakes off by saying “it is what it is”.
The music of the record is the most aggressive country rock you could find without delving into a heavy metal sub-genre. Even in the mellow moments, closer The Meantime Blues for example, there’s this constant kick of attitude running through every note. For me this record feels like everything The Gaslight Anthem could have been, and should have been. Fans of that band will no doubt lap this up with gleeful bliss.
Cory Branan is the modern day James Dean. He’s a rebel armed only with his wit and charisma …oh, and a guitar. His music is a strange blend of a traditional country sound, the kind soaked and aged in a deep barrel of whisky, and a chaotic rebellion that would make even the most hardened punks shy away.
I could not love someone who didn’t think this record was great.
All words by Ian Critchley, find his Louder Than War archive here.