Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#703 in the Series) is Cory Branan, Mutt
With Mutt, his debut release on the Chicago based Bloodshot Records Label, Cory Branan should go from being one of the best kept secrets around, to a “where have you been all of my life?” delicious musical find.
Early in his career, with his name being talked about in the same breath as Ryan Adams, Pete Yorn, and Conor Oberst as one of the new young guns, the Memphis based singer-songwriter has shed his post-punk, harder edged sound, he was in a Black Sabbath cover band at one point, for a more introspective classic rock vibe with a renewed focus on the songwriter side of the singer-songwriter pendulum, penning songs that bridge that musical gap between Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen.
The Webster approved synonyms for the word mutt include the words cross-breed, hodgepodge, medley, blend, combination and mélange, any of which could be used to describe the varied palate of musical influences and textures that Branan uses to paint his musical landscape on this excellent and very appropriately named record.
Kicking off the proceedings with an acoustic number is a perfect way to introduce the audience to Cory Branan, his voice, and his spirit. “The Corner” is a subtle, sparsely produced song that makes you stop, take notice, and perk your ears towards the speakers to soak in what you are hearing in the intricacies of the lyrics, his voice, and the lovely guitar chords. Most of all, this song that is in the Mumford and Sons “A Little Bit of Everything” mold makes you sit up and take notice with anticipation for what is in store for the rest of the record.
The gears immediately shift with the song “Survivor Blues” where the spirit of Thin Lizzy, The Replacements, Steve Forbert, and Bruce Springsteen are all channeled. A more contemporary I.V. drip of The Gaslight Anthem blended with Arcade Fire then hits your system putting you in a very pleasant new school blended with old school haze that is rapidly becoming very addictive. The album has some aggressive hair on it throughout, and especially on this lyrically dense storyboard worthy track.
“Badman” sounds like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty were on the same bill, I will leave it up to you to decide which one was the head-liner, and for the final song they came out on stage to sing the encore together. I am not sure how he does it but this song is a force of nature and a great backstop to a 1-2 punch that may be the best two songs on the album.
Just when we think we are screaming down thunder road on the classic rock tunnel of love, we take a left turn and are treated to “Darken My Door”, a song that is as close to Ryan Adams Alternative Country as you can get and sounds a lot like what you would get if you genetically combined the DNA of fellow Bloodshot stable-mates Justin Townes Earle and The Waco Brothers.
The only head-scratching moment comes with “Lil Heartbreaker” where the string arrangements are indeed beautiful but seem a bit out of place and makes you wonder why, much like if you saw someone wearing a tuxedo to a crawfish boil. This hazy daze moment thankfully dissintigrates fairly quickly since just as we decide we need another Shiner Bock who should join the party but the spirit of Waits himself carrying with him the most eclectically musical song on the album, “Snowman” complete with the syncopated rhythms and the gargling with razor blades vocal style. This time however, you can hear and understand what Branan is saying, which is a very good thing.
Rather than shy away from the influences and worry that his songs would be considered derivate Brannan more so embraces his past and present musical heroes than copies them, never more so than on “Yesterday” a fun summer sort of song where he invokes John Mellencamp’s name against a Jack and Dianne Background and is one of the best songs on the album.
“Karen’s Song” once again combines the old and the new musical influences with the Cosmic Cowboy, Laurel Canyon, Flying Burrito Brothers vibe accompanied by some Hayes Carll Americana hot sauce. Along those same lines “Hold Me Down” sounds a bit like Paul Westerberg fronting The Electric Light Orchestra. This combination may sound a bit strange but much the same as a glass of absinthe and root beer it is quite tasty and pleasantly intoxicating.
At a recent listening session for this album, one ear in particular mentioned that while he liked every song on the album the track by track variances in styles, textures, and influences was a bit off-putting for him. When asked if he would feel the same if he listened to each song as an individual unit and let some time pass between each listen, his response was that every song on the album ranged from very good to excellent, and in a play list with different songs by different artists every single song on Mutt would be a standout. Enough said.
At the end of the day, there is everything to like on this album. The writing is expressive, fun, and with storytelling of the finest order. There are no boring parts here and you get the feeling that Cory really had a blast making this record.
Live long and prosper on Bloodshot Records my friend. I think you have found a home.
All songs by written by Cory Branan
- The Corner 4:24
- Survivor Blues 3:33
- Bad Man 3:54
- Darken My Door 4:14
- There There, Little Heartbreaker 4:04
- The Snowman 3:39
- Yesterday (Circa Summer 90 Somethin’) 4:05
- Karen’s Song 3:27
- The Freefall 4:12
- Jericho 3:57
- Hold Me Down 5:22
- Lily 5:30
- Survivor Blues (The After Hours) 4:25
- Cory Branan -Guitar, Vocals
- Joey Cape – Vocals
- Ralph Carney -Horn, Reeds
- Brian Davis – String Arrangements
- Luther Dickinson – Slide Guitar
- Dave Douglas -Drums, Percussion
- John Elliott – Vocals
- Dana Falconberry – Vocals
- Tom Heyman – Steel Guitar
- James Finch Jr. – Banjo, Bass, Melodica
- Jeffrey Luck Lucas – Cello
- Danny Malone - Vocals
- Russell James Miller – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
- Tim Mooney -Drums, Engineer, Mixing
- David Moss – Cello
- Chad Rex – Vocals
- Kim Richardson – Vocals
- Amanda Shires – Fiddle
- Jon Snodgrass -Vocals
- Damian Sol -Violin
- Rick Steff – Organ, Piano
- Monica Vasey – Harp