The candor of Bingham on Bingham reveals an intimate portrait of love and hope on Fear and Saturday Night.
Backtracking from the modicum of fame achieved by the award-winning "The Weary Kind" which helped garner attention for 2010's T-Bone Burnett-produced Junky Star, Ryan Bingham bypassed the machinations of the music industry by releasing 2012's Tomorrowland on his own imprint. Filled with punk rock ire and politically invective lyrics, Bingham, forever a chameleon amongst the sagebrush, has taken on a lighter shade with his latest album, Fear and Saturday Night.
Accounting for the longest span between releases, troubadour Bingham decamped to the California mountains a la peripatetic Beat poet Gary Snyder to disconnect and mine emotions past, present and future for new material. The solitude of Bingham's meditative hermitage bore solemnity on the bulk of songs that comprise Fear and Saturday Night. However, his past backstory remains.
"Well, it didn't take too long / For the pills and the bottom of a bottle / To dig a deep grave with a shovel / And bury every thing that a young boy needs," sings Bingham on waltzing opener "Nobody Knows My Trouble". Recalling his youth and mother's death from alcohol, the catharsis of music has served as a refuge and outlet. Yet, closing bookend "Gun Fightin' Man" offers no absolution for his father's suicide: "Can you understand / How does the Devil and a gun get in a dead man's hand / It's hard to make amends / When he's six foot underneath of no man's land."
For their bleak content and blunt truth, "Nobody Knows My Trouble" and "Gun Fightin' Man" dovetail with the remaining ten songs of Fear and Saturday Night. Not wholly casting off the shroud, the fading daylight of the hungover title track sets the sun on the past, allowing Bingham to call forth new days. The remainder, essentially love songs, reside in the present and contemplate the future as on the sentimental "Snow Falls in June", "Darlin" and the pensive lullaby "Broken Heart Tattoos", a pondering of sage advice to be imparted to future offspring.
Darkness having receded, the unencumbered songs provide a loose mood for Bingham's new backing band. Lacking the urgency of Tomorrowland, bassist Shawn Davis, drummer Nate Barnes and lead guitarist Daniel Sproul bring Bingham's Airstream-penned songs to life without straying far from the sound of his previous outings: "Radio", with its Lynyrd Skynyrd jam, offsets the signal-to-noise imbalance of the song's dread; gnarled roadhouse romp "Top Shelf Drug", the Tejano travelogue of Kerouacian kicks on "Adventures of You and Me" and "Hands of Time" with its clave rhythm all fall within Bingham's classic cadence. Yet it is Bingham's sentimentality that gets in the way lyrically: always plainspoken, lines such as "No matter what I do or say / You're the butter on my bread" on "Top Shelf Drug" and "I'll try to keep myself in line / And feel everything that you know / I'll keep my troubles out of your toes" on "Darlin" feel clumsy. For an artist who has yet to take a misstep, it's easy to chalk up Bingham's intention here to the blindness of dumb love, given the time and oversight invested in this album.
Seemingly at peace and no longer concerned with "rising star" status or meeting corporate expectations, the candor of Bingham on Bingham reveals an intimate portrait of love and hope on Fear and Saturday Night. More morning after than its title implies, Bingham's rawness has been refined ever so slightly, his newfound reserve a therapeutic epiphany.