Available on Bloodshot Records (May 22, 2012)
In the sense that a mutt has several genetic influences and not necessarily one that’s dominant, that descriptor is a fitting title for Americana troubadour Cory Branan’s newest album, Mutt – his first for Bloodshot Records. Like the dog wandering the neighborhood, the record shows signs of coming from here or there, some influences clearly shining through without any completely staking claim to primacy.
Branan cites influences from John Mellencamp to Tom Waits to John Prine, to Bruce Springsteen and literary forebears like Raymond Carver, and they all are apparent in his balladeering. Branan leans toward Prine and Carver in the opening track “The Corner.” “Down on the corner of what I want/and what I tend to get,” Branan slowly drawls, as a narrator who knows well what he wants, and knows even better it’s his own fault he doesn’t have it.
Where “The Corner,” like most of the tracks, moves at an unhurried pace with Branan’s non flashy guitar work providing the accompaniment, “Survivor Blues” brings the band to the front. Singing with a bit more force, like a restrained Springsteen, he takes a look back and twists the old wisdom “They say it makes you stronger/first you gotta survive/what didn’t kill you/make you wish you died.”
On “The Snowman,” Branan unabashedly does his best Tom Waits. While not attempting the latter’s otherworldly, gravelly vocal delivery, the scene is set with melodicas, harps and all manner of Waits-esque instrumentation supporting his surreal lyrical story. No other track on the album gravitates anywhere near “Snowman,” the majority leaning more toward the guitar ballad end of the spectrum.
Like any self-respecting troubadour, Branan looks back longingly on the good and bittersweet times. “Yesterday (Circa Summer 80 Somethin’)” recounts a hot summer day spent acting cool and impressing that girl hanging out near the kiddie pool. While she’s gone now, he remembers every word she said and the band supports these claims in an anthemic style that would bring a smile to Mellencamp’s face. While Mellencamp shows up in the lyrics here, Branan makes sure his heroes are right there with him at all times, whether he speaks their names or not.