While a lot of folks bill this kid as being in the same genre as folks like Stoney LaRue, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Max Stalling, et al. it is my opinion that he’s not. Now mind you, I hadn’t heard a lot of his stuff before Junky Star but what I had heard I wouldn’t have classified as Red Dirt which is probably why I hadn’t actually checked out more of his stuff. I got this album from a friend of mine and it sat un-listened to and gathering dust until a few weeks ago when I was digging through my stack of stuff to check out when I have time. I dropped it on my mp3 player and didn’t pay much attention to be honest. I didn’t pay much attention until I started hearing these tracks I had never heard before coming up in my random playlist that were good enough I had to look and see who it was. After realizing I had made a mistake not checking out Ryan much earlier I listened to the album all the way through and was happily surprised. As I eluded to before quite a few people throw Ryan Bingham in to the Texas Country heap with all the others but I think he is much more than that. Now you all know I love my Red Dirt Music but this kid transcends any genre you could try and pigeonhole him in to.
Junky Star is honestly hard for me to describe. It’s got a lot of folk feel to it but it has a drawl in the music itself that identifies it as decidedly Texas without having a steel guitar and twang to every track. This one feels like it has been flayed and laid open for all to see. The songwriting is deep and and attacks the stories within the songs from a perspective most folks would consider. “Hallelujah” takes the love song and lets you see it from the perspective a newly lover wanting to come back to the love of his life and refusing to accept death while “All Choked Up Again” is a ballad of patricide and a lover loving unconditionally. I keep feeling like there’s a hint of Dylan somewhere in the lyrics along with a generous portion of Townes Van Zandt but I also feel like that doesn’t really give Ryan enough credit. It’s all well and good to see some of the influences but I have to stress that Ryan’s work is his own and he’s not just a couple of, albeit amazing, songwriters that may have influenced him. The depth runs through every song on this album as does the gravel in his voice. Like so many of my favorite albums this one makes me want to drink whiskey but this one makes me want to do it alone in the dark where I can confront myself just a little bit.
Calling Ryan a country singer doesn’t cover it; as far as I am concerned this boy is a straight up troubadour and while the music itself might not be your thing if you don’t bother listening to this one you are missing out on some of the best songwriting out there these days. I personally like the stripped down feel that this album has compared to a lot of my favorite music these days. It’s a refreshing break even if a little paradoxical as it is also darker, musically, than most of the stuff that grabs my attention these days. After tossing it aside, letting it stay on random for weeks and finally giving it the listen it deserved I have no choice but qualify Junky Star as Essential Listening!