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Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses: Junky Star

Artist: Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses
Title: Junky Star
Release date: August 31
Label: Lost Highway

Ryan Bingham is one country artist that I'm pulling for. I'd heard his first LP (later repackaged and expanded as Mescalito in 2007) and suitably impressed. On that record, Bingham's youth was apparent yet he still sounded road-weary and well traveled. There was a lot of sadness in his voice and songs.

He put on a loose but intense show at Martini Ranch a couple of years ago, playing to a small-ish crowd and drinking with fans afterward. Then he put out a snoozer of a record last year called Roadhouse Sun, which featured a rocked-up, less intimate version of his melancholic troubadour country. Even though the sound was bigger, it was actually less rough around the edges than his debut. 

Then, late last year, it was cool to see him play the leader a pick-up band in the Jeff Bridges movie Crazy Heart. He also performed "The Weary Kind," which appeared in the movie and won an Oscar, to boot.

So now Ryan Bingham's a big deal with a new record out. I approached this record with some skepticism after the Roadhouse Sun debacle, but I'm pleased to report that Junky Star is pretty darn good. Perhaps it's not as powerful -- or as differentiated -- as his debut, but it's a strong record that should continue to raise Bingham's profile as a gritty "real deal" kind of country singer-songwriter who's too unpolished for Nashville pop-country scene but is accessible enough that fans of acts like Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, even Tom Petty would like.

Gone are the bombastic rock stylings of Roadhouse Sun. On Junky Star, Bingham takes a more delicate to approach to the wind-blown prairie rock of mid-'70s Neil Young. Bingham's scratchy voice is that of someone who spent all night at a bar shouting and smoking, then woke up in the morning attempting to cough out a tune. It's the perfect voice for someone who sings "I shook the hand of the deepest sorrow / And waved goodbye just to lose."

Depression by Ryan Bingham

Best song: Opening track "The Poet" or "Yesterday's Blues"
Rotation: Medium-high
Deja Vu: Sunday morning coming down
I'd rather listen to: Mescalito
Grade: B

"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 41-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment 

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