American Love Song, the new album form Ryan Bingham, plays out just the way the title would suggest. It is an aural adventure through the highs and lows, the ragged and the rich, and the good and the bad that America has to offer. Born of Bingham’s experiences it comes across as a statement, perhaps a realization, as to the music and message he wants to make going forward. American Love Song is as fully realized and executed a record as you are bound to hear this year. Crisp, introspective and never self-indulgent (a very real fear when the artist owns the label) it is a consciously amazing work that is bound to further the fame of Mr. Bingham. Produce by acclaimed guitarist Charlie Sexton primarily in Austin, Texas, the album is fifteen prime examples of how a talented song writer can step outside of public perception and deliver a work of stunning impact.
The album starts out with the insanely bouncy “Jingle & Go”. The pounding roadhouse piano, bold and brassy backing vocals combined with fuzzy guitar work announce that this is not going to be the Ryan Bingham you are accustomed to hearing. It sets the tone immediately and the fourteen songs that follow, fall in line, making for an exceptionally fun listen. This album is a departure from his previous work, especially the low key grit of 2015’s Fear and Saturday Night which I find to be refreshing as Bingham has steadily mined that particular style since 2007’s Mescalito put him on the map. It is a step away and, in my opinion, a step forward. Sexton’s production breathes life into this collection and Bingham seems to be excited by what he is doing musically. “Nothing Holds Me Down” with its wide open guitar sound laid bare coupled with pseudo mumble mouth vocals gives way to the heartland rocker “Pontiac” which is one of my top three songs on the album. Richard Bowden’s sawing fiddle work cracks the door open before Bingham raises the bar vocally. A love song of sorts it showcases a band having a blast making music. “Beautiful and Kind” serves as a prime example of county-blues and Bingham sings his ass off. Raw and introspective, his take on “where we are in the world” makes it a song you can’t ignore. “Got Damn Blues” plays in the same country-blues space but with a lot more umpf and power. You’ll understand once you listen to it.
The light hearted, clockwork percussion of “Time for My Mind” is perfectly placed among the albums fifteen tracks as it is a raucously upbeat song that draws you in until you are pounding out the beat on your desk or dashboard. One thing that struck me is how good Bingham’s voice sounds on this record. He is fresh and vibrant where I thought he came across as a little worn out and haggard on his last record. “What Would I’ve Become” is big vocally and thematically. Who among us hasn’t pondered what would have happened, what could have happened if we had just done something differently? The song builds and builds and I can only imagine it bringing the house down live. My favorite song is “Wolves” born of Bingham’s experiences as the new kid who always had to fight his way in, but it is so much more than that for the listener. Hair raising chill bumps hit me every time I listen to it. His vulnerable, pain-soaked vocals are spot on and when you combine them with the acoustic guitar work and shimmering organ in the back ground you really end up with something special. “Blue” has that big late 70’s stadium rock feel to it and only in the best way possible. The choir like backing vocals and the yearning vocals accompanied by crunchy guitar and precisely place mandolin work leave their mark. All of these songs lead up to track fourteen, “America”. With lyrics like “America where have you gone? Can’t you see what’s going on?” Bingham leaves nothing up to interpretation as he questions what is going on around us and why we don’t seem to care the way we should. It is beautiful and thought provoking and honestly should have slapped the listener back to reality as the lead off track on the album.
I wonder how longtime fans will take to this record because one of these things is not like the other when you put American Love Song up against his discography. It is solid all the way through and showcases an artist not content with standing artistically still just to appease a dedicated fan base and it demands your attention because of it. Charlie Sexton’s production shines as does his ability to know when to bring in the band and turn it up and when to let the quiet of the moment shine. If you thought you knew what Ryan Bingham was capable of I think you will be surprised with what he has concocted this go round. If you are not overly familiar with his work, I can’t imagine a better jumping on point as this album is nothing short of stellar. The spring tour is selling out, so check your calendar and get your tickets now.