Ryan Bingham: snarky desert troubadour

Plus Bad Suns, Little People, Bryan Ferry

Ryan Bingham at Belly Up on March 23
  • Ryan Bingham at Belly Up on March 23

Americana singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham may not be breaking any new ground in the roots music field, but it is called roots; you’re not supposed to dig ‘em up. Maintaining sagebrush authenticity isn’t a problem for the New Mexico-born performer, whose voice, looks, and even body language are that of a lonely desert troubadour who probably knocks the dust off his hat between numbers.

He seemed to come out of nowhere in 2009 with his work on the Crazy Heart film soundtrack. Tracks such as the theme song he co-wrote, “The Weary Kind,” earned him an instant shelf full of awards, including an Oscar, a Grammy, and a Golden Globe. However, he’d already released a couple of low key albums before that, both of them modest and quiet with the Cat Stevens-ish persona of someone both wise and snarky. He went decidedly more mainstream, though no less snarky, by regrouping his old band Dead Horses for a one-off release, Junky Star, which remains the highest charting album in his catalogue (number two on the Country chart and number eight on the Rock chart), even if it bears little resemblance to his later aspirations to be the folkie Robin Thicke. He ditched Dead Horses as of his 2012 Tomorrowland album, which charted at number seven, his second highest appearance on the U.S. Country charts to date. However, his most recent studio full-length, Fear and Saturday Night, skipped past Country and instead turned up in the top ten of the U.S. Rock and Indie charts. As such, it’s hard to know what to expect from Bingham’s sixth studio album, American Love Song, which will be brand new when he plays the Belly Up on March 23. He also apparently hopes to be an actor, with roles in A Country Called Home (co-written and directed by his wife, who also helms his music videos) and Kevin Costner’s western TV show Yellowstone, so it remains to be seen if that has diluted his musical focus.

The unlikely but undeniable success story being lived by Bad Suns seems nearly scripted, starting with a KROQ DJ finding their demo in a mailbox and giving it enough airplay to land the group on Conan and Kimmel. Other measures of success have already been met, including appearances at Coachella and opening slots for top shelf headliners such as Halsey and the 1975. A lengthy tour just kicked off overseas and runs through mid-May, including an April 3 date at Observatory North Park, all in support of their first album for major label Epitaph Records, Mystic Truth, which drops March 22. Things could go one of two ways.

Bad Suns

Bad Suns

They might finally establish a firm slot in the pantheon of anthemic arena rockers like U2 and Springsteen, or prove to be in the final throes of indie stardom before a major label dud sends them scattering to the wind like REM and San Diego’s own Origin. Lord knows the band has always secretly dreamed that you’ll mistake one of their songs for any of their oh-so-obvious platinum antecedents. Singles are streaming online for “Away We Go” and “Hold Your Fire,” both produced by Dave Sardy (Oasis, the Head and the Heart) with an ear toward a multigenerational mainstream likely to be left scratching their heads if told that Mystic Truth is named for a neon and glass sculpture spotted in a London museum by singer-guitarist Christo Bowman, or that one of the album’s inspirations is the supernatural farce The Master and Margarita by Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov.

The art of collage has been an integral, if often over-used, part of the music scene ever since sampling first came into vogue, but few contemporary mixmasters can emulate an amphetamine-laced speed-through the satellite TV dial like DJ-producer Laurent Clerk, AKA Little People. Whatever he was watching and listening to while growing up in the Swiss Alps seems to have left him with somewhat of an attention deficit approach to programming hip-hop, skipping fast and randomly across an encyclopedic array of found sounds and electronic FX. It comes as no surprise to look up his bio and find that he’s long been into scoring offbeat indie film and stage productions, not to mention having his music heard in TV shows like the CSI franchise, which explains the cinematic grooves of his self-released 2006 debut Mickey Mouse Operation. That fragmented and then re-cemented sound is more evident than ever on the new album Landloper, his first release since 2015.

Little People

Little People

Though still built upon a waterbed of slushing and shifting instrumental base tracks, he’s now experimenting with several vocal collaborators, even though the mixing tends to chop up the singers’ contributions into unrecognizable puzzle pieces. Tracks such as the lead single “Skies Turn Blue” (featuring Tif Lamson of Givers) and the seven minute “Slow Shimmer” are surprisingly pastoral and almost acoustic, possibly due to lingering inspirations from his temporary relocation from England to Portland, Oregon. He didn’t exactly don flannel-with-a-dickie-sewn-in or start an alien abductee alumni club while stateside, but you know he didn’t stand out from anyone else at the local Starbucks until given away by his lilting British-Swiss accent. Now back in the UK, he’s getting ready to hit the road for a Landloper tour that brings him to the Soda Bar on April 11.

Bryan Ferry

Bryan Ferry

I used to argue with my late friend Persephone Longueuiel (whose death was the subject of a Reader cover feature) about why smooth crooner Bryan Ferry is so often credited as one of the originators of glam rock, mainly from his time fronting Roxy Music. Other than their final album, that band wasn’t exactly a hit machine in the U.S. until they were on their last legs, unless you count the tongue-in-cheek single that spawned a million skeezy pickup lines, “Love is the Drug.” Persephone looked at Roxy more as the godfathers of the new romantics than the velvet goldminers, especially considering Ferry’s subsequent AM radio lounge act, while I factored in Roxy’s bubblegum production and peacock concert staging as squarely in the territory of ground zero glam. We finally decided that Roxy was neither glam nor new romantic, but rather “glamantic.” Never was that manufactured adjective more accurate than on Roxy’s final album, 1982’s Avalon, which scored the band several smooth-as-glass hits in the title track, “More Than This,” and “Take a Chance On Me.” Now 75, Ferry is promoting his upcoming Avalon Tour as a celebration of that classic album which will also feature other tunes from the Roxy roster, as well as selections from his solo output, presumably including his recent sixteenth studio full-length, Bittersweet. After a lengthy overseas run, Bryan Ferry’s Avalon Tour arrives at Jacobs Music Center on August 27.

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