Album Review: Cory Branan – The No-Hit Wonder

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Funny enough, I had never heard of Cory Branan before this album. It turns out he’s been around for about 15 years. Whoops. Anyway, The No-Hit Wonder has a lot going for it. My worry is that Branan will remain just that because his music doesn’t fit neatly into one genre. It’s an unfortunate reality in today’s industry.

Branan has a soothing vocal delivery that makes it apparent he enjoys what he’s doing. It’s definitely a feel-good album, with the underdog theme pervading every song. It manifests itself in all kinds of musical forms, such as the spirited “The Highway Home” and the rockabilly stomper, “Sour Mash.” There are a few forgettable tracks, but nothing outright terrible.

The unquestionable highlight, in my mind, is “You Make Me.” Set to an infectious hook, a foot-tapping backbeat, and lively piano, Branan gives his most enthusiastic vocal performance. It’s Rolling Stones meets Black Crowes. Listen to this one, if nothing else.

Rating: 3.25 / 5

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Concert Review: Ray Wylie Hubbard at Shady Grove

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I recently had the privilege of seeing Ray Wylie Hubbard live for the first time in about 5 years. The venue was Shady Grove on Barton Springs Road. Their free Thursday night Unplugged series is an underrated destination for summer evenings. A friend and I brought our lawn chairs and enjoyed the Ziegenbock drafts they had on special.

Ray took acoustic and harmonica duties, backed by his son Lucas on electric guitar and Rick Richards on drums. They came out strong by running through “Rabbit,” “Snake Farm,” and “Drunken Poet’s Dream.” Later, they had the mostly older crowd on its feet, shouting the words to “Screw You, We’re from Texas.” There was even some two-stepping to the classic hit “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.” The band closed with quick and dirty versions of “Choctaw Bingo” and “Snake Farm” — again!

For those unfamiliar with Ray Wylie Hubbard, he’s an outlaw country legend with a bit of a hippie streak in him. His musical style is gritty, groovy, folksy, and country all at once, and his witty stage banter is second to none (although some hasn’t changed in 5 years). Hubbard’s years of experience and brilliant songwriting have even earned him the nickname of Wylie Lama. He very much embodies what makes Austin the live music capital of the world.

Ray was kind enough to take a picture with us after the show and talk about some of his favorite places to play in Texas. At 67, there’s no telling how much longer he plans on touring, so catch him live while you have the chance. You won’t regret it.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Song Review: Wade Bowen – “When I Woke Up Today”

My go-to description for Wade Bowen’s style is “cerebral.” You can tell from his lyrics that he observes the world from a deeper perspective than most. His music doesn’t typically drag you in by the collar on the first listen, but there comes a moment when it just clicks. The lead single from his forthcoming independent record is no exception.

The arrangement on “When I Woke Up Today” is pretty standard for Bowen, as are his vocals. It’s probably most similar to “Patch of Bad Weather,” though not as heavy. He has a special talent for taking pensive songs like this one and setting them to ear-pleasing melodies. My one major nit to pick is that the guitar riff gets annoying by the end of the first chorus. Some may find it catchy, but I think it’s repetitive and overpowering.

The real strength of the song is the lyrics, which combine senses of introspection, gratitude, hope, and inspiration. It’s an open look into the mind of a road-weary performer who is working his tail off to “make a dream fly.” At the same time, he’s aware that everyone else is dealing with their own stream of triumphs and struggles. All he can do is “[take] the good and the bad with a big smile.”

Wade Bowen’s transition to an independent label doesn’t seem to have dramatically changed his style. He’s suggested that, if anything, the new album will be even more raw and gritty. While this isn’t one of his strongest singles, it’s an indication that we have something to look forward to this October.

Rating: 3.75 / 5

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