I’ve only seen Ryan Bingham perform once, several years ago: it was a solo set at the State Theatre in Sydney, and he was the support act for Kasey Chambers. I had no idea who he was but I was impressed by his onstage presence – impressed enough to buy his albums as they were released, and to buy the Crazy Heart soundtrack because he was involved with it.
In trying to characterise Bingham’s sound, it’s tempting to say he’s the first cousin once removed of Ryan Adams by way of Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash, with some Waylon Jennings thrown in and maybe a bit of Willie Nelson too. Certainly, that hints at his lineage but it also makes it sound as if his music is derivative, and that would be incorrect. Well, obviously all music is derivative in its way – there are only eight notes in an octave, etc etc – but Bingham is his own man. His voice cracks its way through the first songs of his latest album, Fear and Saturday Night, and somewhere there would be a producer who’d clean that up or demand that he go back and sing those songs again – but then they wouldn’t be his songs.
Bingham cracks. He rumbles and growls. He also seduces, in a way that few country music artists – actually, few singers, if one is honest – can do. Seduction is not what country music does, and it may not even be what Ryan Bingham set out to do, but it’s there on this album. His innate appeal is the reason why the rattles and moans – the occasional sadnesses, too – of this album sound completely in place. Initially sceptical, after a while I wanted to be seduced by this album. It’s not because Bingham sings like an outlaw, as his lineage and song titles (‘Top Shelf Drug’, ‘Broken Heart Tattoo’, ‘Gun Fightin Man’) suggest he might – it’s because he just sings with whatever’s inside him. His songs belong in a corner bar, performed for a handful of hopeless souls, and they also belong in a stadium. Where they likely don’t belong is on a festival stage, where people can pass by and not really listen. It’s in the close listening where Ryan Bingham becomes his own man, where his idiosyncrasies become perfections and where he’ll draw you completely in so that you’re completely, totally willingly seduced.
Fear and Saturday Night is out now on Axster Bingham Records through Lost Highway Australia.