The best thing about Cory Branan is his now-they’re-funny, now-they’re-sad lyrics. No, wait, the best thing is the way the tune always works just right with the lyrics, and it’s always catchy as hell. No, wait, the best thing is the way he jumps from one genre to another but still stays firmly grounded in rootsy, rocking country. No, wait, it’s the way he can tell you 14 different stories in 14 different ways, the way he does on his fifth full-length release (and third for Bloodshot) Adios.
I guess it’s all of that. Cory Branan is nobody’s idea of a tidy package, but on Adios as on his previous efforts, he wraps up clever wordplay, catchy tunes, ass-kicking music, and tales of woe, love, violence, debauchery and loyalty in one generous package. Branan produced the whole record himself, with help from a crack band and some solid guests, chief among them Amanda Shires on fiddle and backing vocals.
They’re calling this Branan’s “death” record, and there is a certain thread of mortality that runs through a handful of the songs. Chief among them is his wryly touching tribute to his late father, “The Vow.” He holds up the old man’s sterling quality of being true to his word, while still poking at his penchant for clichés. And there’s another one, a real tear-jerker called “Don’t Go,” (with Shires singing backup) that’s a tender ballad about a couple from the so-called “greatest generation” from their meeting to their final parting. On the less serious side, “Visiting Hours” pokes fun at a generation now entering its dotage: “We always said we’d die for rock and roll, but you didn’t mean it and I didn’t mean so slow …” Or the final track, the loopy waltz called “My Father Was An Accordion Player,” who may be just slightly bitter about Elvis, who he refers to as “some pretty punk kid [who] made it big, while he did bar mitzvah gigs …”
If butt-kicking rock is more up your alley, Branan will make you dance like a fiend while he sends chills up your spine with “Another Nightmare In America,” a song torn right out of the Black Lives Matter headlines, sung from the point of view of a violent, racist cop.
Branan incorporates pretty much the whole history of American roots music into this album, too, from the Buddy Holly lope of the short but sweet opening anthem “I Only Know” to the Springsteen as country-rocker of “Blacksburg,” to the folksy, soulful Tom Petty-like “You Got Through,” to the Tom Waitsian tale of barroom denizens “Chameleon Moon.” Or there’s the soaring country love ballad “Imogene.”
Myself, I’m pretty taken with a couple of the deeper cuts: “Cold Blue Moonlight,” a swampy bluesy ballad that suddenly turns on a dime and offers up some earth-shaking guitar solos, and “Equinox,” an acoustic ballad from the point of view of an old woman whose thoughts seem to wander in and out of coherence as she recalls an old flame. But I’ll bet if you take a listen to Adios you’ll find your share of songs that worm their way into your heart, too.