Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses: Roadhouse Sun

Ordinarily, any album with the words “dead,” “horses,” and “roadhouse” on its cover would be a ripe candidate for outright dismissal on the grounds of crippling cliché addiction, but there’s an exception to prove every rule, and Ryan Bingham’s latest, Roadhouse Sun – credited to Bingham and the Dead Horses – is a helluva lot more enjoyable than its cover might suggest. For starters, Bingham has beefed up his arrangements and strengthened his grooves since 2007’s Mescalito; where his last album lacked the spiky, hallucinogenic thrills promised by its title, this batch of songs is just as hot and grimy as you’d hope for. Only 28, Bingham is already a grizzled veteran of the rodeo circuit and the itinerant life – miles of hard living that surface in each of Roadhouse’s 12 tracks, which range from the raging, slow-burning opener “Day Is Done” to the sprightlier, Nashville-flavored “Country Roads” and all stops in between. While lacking anything you’ll probably identify as an instant classic, Roadhouse comes at you with its chin jutted out and a pack of cigs rolled into its sleeve, and has the chops to justify the swagger; it’s a yellow-eyed, dust-covered reprobate of a record, steeped in Faces-style rock and soaked in bourbon. It doesn’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of Bingham’s influences, but if the leap he’s made between his first two releases is any indication, he’s well on his way to making a definitive statement. In the meantime, just crank this mother and knock a few down. (Lost Highway 2009)

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