ADIOS is Cory Branan’s death record. Not the cheeriest of openings, but like all of Branan’s mercurial work, it’s probably not what you think. As funny and defiant as it is touching and sad, this self-dubbed “loser’s survival kit” doesn’t spare its subjects or the listener.
Not even Branan’s deceased father is let off the hook. In the tender homage “The Vow” he drolly cites his father’s favorite banality “that’s what you get for thinking” as “probably not the best lesson for kids.” For most songwriters that would be the punchline but Branan pushes through words and, in his father’s actions, finds a kind of “genius in the effortless way he just ‘did’.”
Not all the death on ADIOS is literal mortality. “Imogene” is sung from the wreckage of a love that once “poked fun at the pain, stoked the sun in the rain” but ends with the urgent call to “act on the embers, ash won’t remember the way back to fire.”
The trademark lyrical agility is mirrored sonically. Never a genre loyalist, ADIOS finds Branan (much like his musically restless heroes Elvis Costello and Tom Waits) coloring outside the lines in sometimes startling shades of fuzz and twang. While unafraid to play it arrow-straight when called for (“The Vow,” “Equinox,” “Don’t Go”), ADIOS veers wildly from the Buddy Holly-esque rave up “I Only Know” (sung with punk notables Laura Jane Grace and Dave Hause), through the swampy “Walls, MS” to the Costello-like new wave of “Visiting Hours.”
The blistering punk of “Another Nightmare in America” bops along daring listeners to “Look away, look away, move along, nothing to see here” (the song is written from the point of view of a racist killer cop). And as the mourning singer on “Cold Blue Moonlight” shifts from paralysis to panic, the song’s jazzy drone shifts to an almost Sabbath fury. The tonal shifts are always deliberate and not just simple genre hopping; while the turns can be jarring you can trust Branan to take you somewhere unexpected.
The 14-song album was self-produced and recorded in the spring of 2016 at Tweed Studios in Oxford, MS with a tight three piece: Branan on lead vocals and guitar (both electric and acoustic); Robbie Crowell (formerly of Deer Tick) on drums and percussion, keys, and horns; and James “Haggs” Haggerty on bass. Additionally, Amanda Shires contributes on fiddle and vocals, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! and Dave Hause provide guest vocals.
Cory Branan has four previous full-length releases: The Hell You Say (2002, Madjack Records), 12 Songs (2006, Madjack), Mutt (2012, Bloodshot Records), and The No-Hit Wonder (2014, Bloodshot). His music has received critical praise from the likes of Rolling Stone and Rolling Stone Country, NPR All Things Considered, Noisey, Wall Street Journal, Paste Magazine, Oxford American, Consequence of Sound, Southern Living, and many others.
The Whiskey Gentry
Following the release of their first two acclaimed albums, Please Make Welcome (2011) and Holly Grove (2013), the Atlanta-based band The Whiskey Gentry are set to release their third full-length studio album entitled Dead Ringer this spring. On it, the husband and wife duo of Lauren Staley & Jason Morrow and bandmates have created an effort that builds on many of the sounds of their previous albums - incorporating deep country, Americana, honky-tonk, bluegrass and a stiff shot of gritty rock ’n’ roll, yet it also finds the band testing themselves and pushing beyond their own boundaries.
Dead Ringer deals with growing up, and how that’s affected the band’s relationships, and the places they’ve gone and people they’ve met in the process. As singer/songwriter Lauren Staley puts it, “There's also a lot of questioning where you are in your life: are you going to follow your dream, or are you going to do what society thinks you should do?”
It’s apparent with this effort that Staley & Co. have opted for the former. “A common lyrical thread throughout this album are stories about being on the road,” Lauren admits, “and chasing your dreams and the outcomes - either good or bad - in doing that.”
Stepping outside of the comfort zone of their previous recordings, the band has moved in a different direction musically. “Sonically, the biggest difference of this record is that we recorded it live together in the same room at Echo Mountain Recording Studio (Asheville, NC),” Lauren explains. “There are less overdubs, which makes it sound more like how it would if you were to see us in person - it’s raw, it's not perfect. We worked with a producer for the first time (Les Hall), and he had so many amazing ideas we'd never thought of and really pushed us to think outside of our box. There's an energy on this record that we've never captured before, and I think it was a complete game changer for our sound.”
Dead Ringer has more guitars, more attitude and more of an edge than anything the band has done before. It's not such a massive departure in sound that fans won't understand it, but they will notice. “We are not a different band,” Lauren explains, “but we've definitely grown up and are changed people from the time we started this band. I think we're better musicians, better songwriters. We've learned lessons and we've worked hard, and we want to tell our current fans and new fans the stories of what we've experienced on this journey. Musically, there are still elements of bluegrass and honky-tonk in our sound, and there always will be. However, I think we've expanded the scope of what we can offer people - there's something for everyone on this record.”