Ryan Bingham and his Dead Horses are riding high

Calvin Wilson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

Until recently, singer, songwriter and guitarist Ryan Bingham was pretty much unknown in the mainstream. With his band, the Dead Horses, Bingham enjoyed a cult following for his brand of country rock. But legit fame seemed a ways down the road.

That was before the road led to Hollywood.

Last spring, Bingham won an Academy Award for co-writing (with T Bone Burnett) "The Weary Kind," a song featured in the film, "Crazy Heart."

"I had no idea the song was even going to make it onto the soundtrack," says Bingham, 29. "It was a little overwhelming, but I made it through."

The Oscar recognition, he said, "has definitely opened up a lot of doors for us and exposed our music to a lot of people who'd probably never even heard of us before."

Bingham and his band — guitarist-mandolin player Corby Schaub, bassist Elijah Ford and drummer Matthew Smith — are now focusing on performing tunes from their new album, "Junky Star."

Highlights of the disc include the starkly reflective title track, the urgent "Strange Feelin' in the Air" and the gloriously Dylanesque "Direction of the Wind."

Bingham turned to the legendary Burnett to produce "Junky Star." Aside from his career as a singer-songwriter, Burnett also has earned acclaim for producing albums by artists such as Jakob Dylan, Gillian Welch and Cassandra Wilson, and soundtracks for films including "Crazy Heart," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Walk the Line."

"He's quite an individual, and a real encyclopedia of music," Bingham says. "He brings the best out of you."

Bingham became a musician at age 16 when his mother bought him a guitar.

"I just started playing music from there," he says. "And I kind of got hooked."

He became interested in songwriting through listening to the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark — "a bunch of guys out of West Texas," where Bingham grew up.

"I write about places that I've been, people that I've met and stuff that I've survived," he says.

So why is the band called the Dead Horses?

"It's that old figure of speech — 'You can't beat a dead horse,'" Bingham says.

"When we first got together, it was really tough going. We were always broke, and it seemed like we couldn't get anywhere."

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