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Album review: Ryan Bingham, "Junky Star"

ryan binghamRyan Bingham's Oscar nomination hasn't changed his sound. (Brandon Wu/FTWP)

By Allison Stewart

It was one of the stranger career trajectories in recent memory: Ryan Bingham, a mid-level singer-songwriter with a slim back catalogue, was rescued from folkie purgatory by the makers of the film "Crazy Heart," for which he would eventually win both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Original Song for "The Weary Kind."

Because his victory likely had as much to do with a groundswell of support for star Jeff Bridges and awards-bait producer T-Bone Burnett as it did for his solid, workmanlike songs, Bingham's first post-Oscar release, the gravelly, understated "Junky Star," finds him in an awkward position: He's now the Three 6 Mafia of Americana acts, with a reputation bigger than anything he's actually done to deserve it.

"Junky Star," also produced by Burnett, isn't the showy, big-budget career-solidifier it might have been; luckily, it's precisely the sort of underplayed album Bingham might have made if his Hollywood detour had never happened.

Bingham wraps his hoarse, well-worn voice - the aural equivalent of Marlboros and Levis 501s - around a collection of barroom folk songs that, musically and thematically, cast back to vintage Dylan and, more specifically, "Nebraska"-era Springsteen.

With the help of his backing band, the Dead Horses, Bingham spins New Depression-era tales of lucklessness and woe that alternate between stripped-down guitar ballads and full-band rave-ups, some overly literal ("Depression"), others (the record-closing, career-high "All Choked Up Again") ragged and mournful, but just right.

Recommended tracks: "All Choked Up Again," "Hallelujah," "Depression"

By Allison Stewart  |  August 31, 2010; 9:55 AM ET
Categories:  Quick spins  | Tags: Ryan Bingman  
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