So often, you get a tune stuck in your head, which could be a good or bad thing. “I’ve been carryin’ my trouble / I’m this pack strapped to my shoulder." Out of nowhere, you begin to hum it or sing a line wondering at first where or who sings “I’ve been running from everything you know,” until it finally clicks. With so many new albums that have hit the record store shelves since January, I keep gravitating to “Nobody Knows My Trouble,” a loping autobiographical ballad about trying to outrun a painful past and finding redemption, which begins Fear and Saturday Night, the new album from Ryan Bingham.
The singer-songwriter fell off my map after the 2010 film Crazy Heart, which earned Bingham an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Grammy. The tragic loss of his mother, who drank herself to death, and his father shooting himself left Bingham’s life emotionally spiraling. On top of that, his band The Dead Horses were breaking up, and Bingham just felt lost trying to feel the chemistry with new players. The shining light of positive change was his marriage to Anna Axster, who helped Bingham, one of the rising stars on Lost Highway Records, to form his own label Axster/Bingham Records and record music on his own terms.
The two-disc vinyl LP co-produced with engineer Jim Scott was recorded mostly live, with a band made up of Daniel Sproul (guitar), Jed Hughes (guitar/mandolin), Chris Joyner (keyboards), Shawn Davis (bass), Nate Barnes (drums), and Jose “Pepe” Carlos (accordion). Thirteen beautiful tracks were all written by Bingham and recorded at PLYRZ Studios in Valencia, California. No longer living among the tumbleweeds of West Texas, Bingham hunkered down in an old Air Stream trailer, tucked away in the mountains of California for several weeks, crafting some of the best songs he’s ever recorded.
Fear and Saturday Night is a mix of country, rock and roll, zydeco, and dust bowl roots that seamlessly blends together stories inspired from Bingham’s past. On “Broken Heart Tattoos,” Bingham adds harmonica to his gritty voice, imagining what kind of parent he’ll become to an unborn child. He follows it with a Hendrix-Zeppelin rocker “Top Shelf Drug,” about his lover. “Adventures Of You and Me” is a slide-guitar and Tex-Mex-zydeco rocker about a pair of misfits who travel the country together, while “Island in the Sky” has a Dylanesque feel about escaping to a place of salvation.
Axster, a frequent well of inspiration on the album, is the person of interest in the love song “Snow Falls in June.” The hit single “Radio,” about coping with a darkness that doesn’t want to let go, cooks into a smoking jam bridge that comes to a boil, then slows down to a simmer. “Hands of Time” is another classic rock song about moving forward with grit and determination. The added bonus track “Cryin’ on the Streets of LA” exclusively found on the vinyl LP, is the type of ballad that shows why Bingham is one of the rising stars saving country music.
On my scorecard, Ryan Bingham is in the clubhouse with the lead. Although it’s only February, I’m not sure if anyone is going to catch him at the finish line for top honors in 2015. This album should be on everyone’s radar.