Cory Branan is a hard guy to peg, but he seems aware of that fact. His sound mixes enough influences that he called his last album, “Mutt.” While “Mutt” did showcase some strong songwriting, it simply didn’t cohere perfectly as an album.
“The No-Hit Wonder” is a different beast. While there are still plenty of the same ingredients (punk rock, blues, road house piano – even a small amount of zydeco), it seems clear that Branan has intentionally chosen country as the primary vehicle. The result is an album that just makes more sense.
The album also feels differently with a brighter tone/mood. “The No-Hit Wonder” cover features Branan leaning back, relaxed in a pose that looks like a reference to the cover of John Prine’s second LP, “Revenge” – made more interesting because of “Daddy Was a Skywriter,” which is a nice nod to “Grandpa was a Carpenter” from “Revenge.” Here again, “Daddy” provides an example of the difference in tone. Lines like “Momma love me and I hope it shows” contrast pretty starkly to “Badman” off the last album (Clearly, “Badman” was fairly tongue-in-cheek, but still.). “Mutt” also got a little bogged down as an album with a string of slow songs in the middle, and that doesn’t happen here.
There are still plenty of songs about lost love, lust and heartache, but even a darker song like “The Only You” with the chorus “When I get lonely, sure she’ll do, but you’re the only you,” still gives the character enough feeling to be interesting. Opening the album with a love song (“You Make Me”) helps temper the darker moments as do faster tempos throughout. Even songs like the title track, which has the most punk influence on the album, and “The Meantime Blues” that both deal with trying to scrape by as a songwriter don’t wallow in their frustrations.
Ultimately, it’s an album that’s more fun than its predecessor and builds on the qualities that made Branan interesting in the first place. In addition to the whole clearly being more than the sum of its parts, each song stands on its own well. “All the Rivers in Colorado” deserves to see a lot of airplay on traditional country stations – as does “Sour Mash,” which could have been a side for Cash at Sun if the tempo was slowed a bit. It’s a big step froward for Branan.
The release date is August 19th.