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It was one of the stranger career trajectories in recent memory: Ryan Bingham, a mid-level singer-songwriter with a slim back catalogue, was rescued from folkie purgatory by the makers of the film Crazy Heart, for which he would eventually win both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Original Song for “The Weary Kind.”
Because his victory likely had as much to do with a groundswell of support for star Jeff Bridges and awards-bait producer T-Bone Burnett as it did for his solid, workmanlike songs, Bingham’s first post-Oscar release, the gravelly, understated Junky Star, finds him in an awkward position: He’s now the Three 6 Mafia of Americana acts, with a reputation bigger than anything he’s actually done to deserve it.
Junky Star, also produced by Burnett, isn’t the showy, big-budget career-solidifier it might have been; luckily, it’s precisely the sort of underplayed album Bingham might have made if his Hollywood detour had never happened.
Bingham wraps his hoarse, well-worn voice – the aural equivalent of Marlboros and Levis 501s – around a collection of barroom folk songs that, musically and thematically, cast back to vintage Dylan and, more specifically, Nebraska-era Springsteen.
With the help of his backing band, the Dead Horses, Bingham spins New Depression-era tales of lucklessness and woe that alternate between stripped-down guitar ballads and full-band rave-ups, some overly literal (“Depression”), others (the record-closing, career-high “All Choked Up Again”) ragged and mournful, but just right. — The Washington Post