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Ryan Bingham

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Ryan Bingham knows a thing or two about pain. He learned the emotional aspect early in life, when shuttling between small towns and family members in the hardscrabble ranching communities of West...

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Ryan Bingham knows a thing or two about pain. He learned the emotional aspect early in life, when shuttling between small towns and family members in the hardscrabble ranching communities of West Texas and New Mexico -- and became well-acquainted with the physical facets during his years on the Southwestern rodeo circuit.

That ache is palpable in the grooves of Mescalito, Ryan Bingham's Lost Highway debut, but what's even more plain is the steely strength needed to overcome it -- a tenor that's evident in both the singer-songwriter's preternaturally wizened voice and his remarkably poignant songs, which resonate with roadhouse wisdom and rough-and-ready border-town piquancy.

Bingham's affection for tradition is evident throughout Mescalito, an album that finds Bingham digging deep into raw-boned country (on the just-jawed workingman's ode "Dollar a Day") and revisiting his border-town upbringing (on the lilting, Spanish-language mariachi track "Boracho's Station"). But nowhere on the album does Bingham come across as the sort of guy prone to living in the past. He can pay tribute to his heroes -- "Travelin' Jones" is a nod to Luckenbach, TX legend Greg Gorman, who passed away in late 2003 -- but ultimately, every note on the 14-song disc is an expression of Bingham's unusually full life, both the good and the bad.

That success led Bingham to put some of his growing backlog of compositions on tape -- which led to the release of such self-released, no-budget CDs as 2005's Wishbone Saloon. The tunes contained on those fueled many a barroom jukebox and earned the attention of folks like Texas legend Terry Allen (who dubbed him "the legitimate heir to the hard traveling deep knowing likes of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams") and Joe Ely (who marveled that "his stories plant an uppercut to the gut and give a hint that truth is on the run.").

He's full of stories -- both knee-slapping and white-knuckled -- and he's undeniably full of soulfulness.