Even by Americana's loosely scrawled boundaries, Cory Branan has never been content to play by any rules and his latest album ADIOS is certainly no exception to the precedent he's previously set. The acoustic-fueled twang that helped define his 2014 LP The No-Hit Wonder is still present, but it's also been heavily augmented on ADIOS by a lock-step three-piece rock band approach. Branan masterfully handles all of the lead vocal and guitar duties, with James Haggerty on bass and former Deer Tick member Robbie Crowell rounding out the aural atmospherics on drums, percussion, keys and horns.
About two and a half minutes into "Blacksburg," off his fifth solo record, Cory Branan pauses his countrified classic rock tune for a solo from what sounds like bagpipes, a saxophone, and/or fuzzed-out Flying V power chords. Constantly shape-shifting, it sounds like a parody of white guys making fist-pumping music about feelings: a big moment undercut by its own purposeful self-awareness yet somehow made even bigger by its own self-deprecation. The song itself is about a woman with big dreams stuck in a small town; Branan rhymes "emptying rounds in dark bars" with "getting around in a parked car.
Wry Mississippi songman Cory Branan returns with Adios, an assured, cleverly constructed, and death-obsessed set that plays to his many strengths. A bit of a maverick with one foot in country, one in punk, and other limbs strewn here and there, Branan seems at home in his own skin, weaving tales of heartache, ghosts, drunks, various types of moonlight, and the well-read but down and out. As on previous releases, he fills a modern day Prine-ian role of the literate smartass storyteller who can just as easily turn on the tenderness with a bittersweet turn of phrase.
Cory Branan is one of those restless creative spirits not content to limit himself to a singular style, which can be challenging from a marketing perspective. He reminds me of a novelist friend who was once scolded by his agent after having delivered his third novel in as many genres. The agent questioned, with exasperation, “How am I supposed to break you nationally when we have to find a new audience for every book?” Listening to Branan’s albums as he has developed is a similar experience because he can genre-jump from one song to another.