Ryan Bingham Junky Star

Ryan Bingham Junky Star
With his Oscar victory earlier this year for the theme to Crazy Heart, "The Weary Kind," Ryan Bingham firmly established himself as one of the leaders of the latest generation of alt-country troubadours. Expectations were already high for his follow-up to 2009's Roadhouse Sun, an album that deftly waved the Southern rock flag without pandering to stereotypes. Junky Star follows much the same model, but whether it's the effect of his Crazy Heart experience or not, Bingham's storytelling carries more weight than before. Then again, his gravelly twang can make any situation sound like a struggle. Junky Star succeeds precisely because most of its 12 tracks directly reflect the hard times that so many working people have had to face over the past two years. In that sense, it would be a stretch to put the album in the same league as Bruce Springsteen's Middle American masterpiece, Nebraska, but the spirit of that album reveals itself in several places on Junky Star, specifically the title track and opener "The Poet." Bingham knows he's following in the footsteps of a host of other iconic songwriters aside from Springsteen, but at no time on Junky Star does he sound intimidated by that. Right now, there are few peers more capable of picking up the torch. (Lost Highway)