Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses — Tomorrowland. Out now, Lost Highway Records.
Ryan Bingham, of course, made his name a few years ago when he collaborated on the soundtrack to Crazy Heart with T-Bone Burnett, including Best Original Song “The Weary Kind”. “The Weary Kind” was typical spectacular Bingham: a heartbreaking commentary on how hard life on the road, as a musician, can be. But the shadow of success can be strange, especially or even if you’re a tattooed false-teeth-wearing ex-rodeo-rider good lookin’ man like Bingham, and that’s written large all over Tomorrowland, his first album since 2009’s Junky Star rode his Oscar win to pretty big numbers and pretty big tours.
How do you follow a record that had an Oscar-winning song on it? With Tomorrowland, which is a tour de force musically and lyrically, right from the start with the politically charged opening track “Beg For Broken Legs”; the droning, repetitive guitars under Bingham’s raspy shouted chorus, i ain’t gonna bite my tongue, beg for broken legs no more. It’s lush with strings (a new direction for Bingham) and crashes to a close at what feels like the apex of the song, making it an all the more startling fuck you in the direction of the state of America.
“Beg For Broken Legs” is book-ended by track 12, “Never Ending Show”, a slower, sadder look at what it’s like to be a touring musician, even one with an Oscar who made a lot of money from one song — a more personal commentary on the exhaustion that comes with doing what you love in a culture that isn’t built to support it. In between, Bingham’s songwriting has just gotten stronger, and the Dead Horses continue to be one of the best backing bands out there. Tomorrowland is full of songs about chasing dreams (“Western Shores”; you got to live out loud) and putting your own boot prints on the world.
It’s a fist to the face of an album, a go out and do something album, from the sonic walls of guitar choruses that Bingham loves, to the bleak and desperate prayer of “No Help From God”. How do you follow up winning an Oscar? With this record, which doesn’t care what you think of it, and that’s exactly why it’s so great.