Ryan Bingham has a very subtle way of sticking it to the man. He is also very blunt about it. He is bluntly subtle. Or subtlely blunt, whichever you prefer. Case in point is his new album “Tomorrowland“. Bingham’s fourth record, it was the first that he self-produced and self-released on his record label – Axster Bingham – that he co-founded with his wife Anna Axster. He has stated that it was designed to allow them to focus more on the creative side of music, rather than the corporate record world. He used facebook, twitter and other social media sites extensively as a promotional tool. This seems to be the new way of doing business, especially for the younger generation of musicians – Bingham is only 32. He mentioned to me that there is a lot of uncertainty in the “corporate record world” at the moment, coupled with an often steadfast refusal to change. Thus, Bingham feels that going at it alone is perhaps the best way to succeed.
So who exactly is Ryan Bingham? In the words of Texas Music Magazine, he is someone who “talks and sings with a whiskey-and-cigarette throat that screams hard living. Hard in a way that can make a 29-year-old sound like a 50-year-old Tom Waits.” Born in New Mexico and reared in Texas, Bingham is your classic Americana/Roots singer with brushstrokes of that famous southern culture. Being from Texas, he also spent many years on the rodeo circuit and began bullriding in his late teens. His band is even called Dead Horses. Like many folk in the Americana and Roots style of music, he has had the fortune to work with the great T-Bone Burnett. In fact, it was this collaboration that led to Bingham winning an Oscar at the age of 28. Burnett produced Bingham’s song “The Weary Kind” which was used as the theme song for the film “Crazy Heart“, which not only gave Jeff Bridges his long deserved Oscar for his acting performance, but also netted one for Bingham for writing the aforementioned tune. In addition, it won the same award at the Golden Globes and was awarded song of the year at the Americana Music Association Awards.
But back to the album. The record itself is quite lengthy, with the 13 tracks totaling just over 62 minutes. “Rising of the Ghetto” tops out at eight minutes, seven seconds. Clearly Bingham is no slouch about his music, though with songs of that length it is understandable why his contract with his record label came to a halt. Not that Bingham is complaining by any means. The album reached 36 on the Billboard Top 200, Number 16 on the US Rock Top Albums, and 7th on the country charts. While it was not as high as his previous album Junky Star, it did top his first two efforts. Americana is not the easiest type of music to market to the masses, or even market in general. The many other similar genres, it has a relatively small but extremely devoted fan base. Yet with Tomorrowland, Bingham proves that an artist doesn’t need the support of the capitalist system to be successful. Yet he has also won an Oscar, which can’t hurt either. Hopefully more musicians will follow in his footsteps and put music back where it belongs: in the hands of those who create it and the fans who listen to it.
Tomorrowland was released September 18, 2012.
RIYL: John Mellencamp, Jeff Bridges, T-Bone Burnett, Neil Young, Steve Earle,