Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day II Round 1 of Sangre de Cristo Region

Photos Courtesy of the Artist

Photos Courtesy of the Artist

by: Thomas D. Mooney and Ryan Heape
Editor-in-Chief and Associate Editor

We’re breaking up the First Round up over the course of the next four days. Today, we’re taking on the Sangre de Cristo Region. 

Note: Just to avoid any confusion on how Artist Song Tournaments are done, they’re ranked/seeded by what we deem as most popular (and most known) to least popular (and least known). That’s the driving force in how songs get seeded. When it comes to bracket match-ups though, they are decided on which song we think is better (Based on lyrics, melody, instrumentation, and overall greatness). If we didn’t do it this way, there really wouldn’t be a point in doing the tournament. This is the most vital and important information you must understand to fully comprehend ASTs. 

For yesterday’s 16 vs. 17 match-ups, click here.

Here’s a schedule for the next few days:

Thursday: First Round of Devil’s Backbone Region
Friday: First Round of Cowboys in Mexico Region
Monday: First Round of Hippies in Austin Region
Tuesday: Second Round of Sangre de Cristo and Devil’s Backbone Region
Wednesday: Second Round of Hippies in Austin and Cowboys in Mexico Region

Bingham2 (1)

Sangre de Cristo Region

1. Southside of Heaven
16. The Highway

If you’re one of the few people who caught a listen to Wishbone Saloon before Bingham’s 2007 come-up, “The Highway” might’ve been the song that clued you in to what was coming next. Conceivably, the song would fit right at home on each of his subsequent LPs: It’s stark, gorgeous, with typically Binghamesque lyrics that contemplate the nature of the soul, but as it goes, the meditation concludes with the simple refrain, “Along this highway.” Also, I don’t remember the recording and production of this track being this incredibly well done. All respect to T-Bone Burnett, I almost prefer the atmospherics of this to the minimalism of Junky Star. “The Highway” more than deserved a spot on Mescalito.

It’s a shame it had to go up against this.
–RYAN HEAPE

Winner: Southside of Heaven

8. Endless Ways
9. Flower Bomb

This is just about as close as you can get–even for an 8 vs. 9 first round match-up. They’re two specific examples of Bingham’s songwriting expanding and taking on more subjects. In these cases, “Endless Ways” and “Flower Bomb” are two of Bingham’s most apparent political songs he’s written to date. He’d always had hinted at social commentary within the context of his songs before, but these two show no timid or implying lines. He’s wearing his views on his sleeves.

But they couldn’t be any different. “Endless Ways” is the rambunctious prototypical anthemesque protest song. It’s the “I’m as mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!” song. On the polar opposite end, “Flower Bomb” is a more reserved, cerebral type of protest. You can probably tell that much just based on their names. I think that plays even more into what the two songs are about specifically too.

“Endless Ways” is much more about our (The U.S.) foreign policy and the invasion of multiple Middle Eastern countries over the years (When “Endless Ways” was released, The U.S. was in the middle of two occupations: Iraq and Afghanistan). “Flower Bomb” has a much bigger audience and subject though. It has more of a world view on common problems: hunger, homelessness, the pharmaceutical industrial complex, foreign and domestic policy, and just the over well being of the planet.

More than anything else, I feel everyone should observe about Bingham’s growth as a songwriter is his true fearlessness. Writing about politics–especially when championed by “country,” “Texas country,” and “alt-country” crowds–is walking out and being prone to criticism by some. I feel it’s a great thing though.

What sends “Flower Bomb” to the next round is how much more balanced of a song it is. Where “Endless Ways” has “Flower Bomb” in raw emotion, FB has EW in reserved thought out intellect.
–THOMAS D. MOONEY

Winner: Flower Bomb

5. Direction of the Wind
12. I Heard ‘Em Say

We need to be blunt. Cover your ears if these are your favorite songs. Here it goes: “Direction of the Wind” vs. “I Heard ‘Em Say” is a pretty boring match-up and the exact opposite of the previous match-up of “Endless Ways” and Flower Bomb.” If we could make an executive decision, we’d throw “Flower Bomb” and “Endless Ways” into the second round and leave DotW and IHES here with losses. 

Just like I wrote about in that match-up, here with DotW and IHES, Bingham comes up with two political songs, though this time more on the social commentary side. But where those soared, these are little stale. As one friend put it, “Direction of the Wind” has a neo-liberal done by Sesame Street vibe. I wouldn’t go that far, but I wouldn’t have brought it up either if it wasn’t relevant. I think it stands out on Junky Star–but sadly for the wrong reasons.

Of course though, one of these has to win. We’ll take the song with the broad-strokes, positive message over the song where Bingham makes an attempt to sing about racial tension.
–THOMAS D. MOONEY and RYAN HEAPE

Winner: Direction of the Wind

4. Country Roads
13. For What It’s Worth

“For What It’s Worth” is the saddest goddamn song ever written and recorded. The soul that plays this joint on a two-lane highway outside of Odessa or some place is a lost one. “There ain’t no rain/Cause all the crops are burned and dry/Except for the tear in his momma’s eye” looks kind of ridiculous on paper, as if Bingham were some kind of masochistic sorrow-monger.

But damn if there is anything more affecting than #DarkBingham. #DarkBingham is biblical, but it’s the part of the old testament where people die of thirst and bacteria in the desert. #DarkBingham has been called “heroin country” by leading psychiatrists. I played some #DarkBingham for Drake and he was like, “Bruh, this dude needs to lighten up.” Full disclosure: I have played this song at one in the morning, by myself, on a two-lane highway outside of Odessa before. It was a rough time, and I think I was eating Arby’s while it was playing.

I will protect “Country Roads” throughout this bracket because there’s nothing more delightful than harmonica and mandolin together. This song goes.
–RYAN HEAPE

Winner: Country Roads

6. Long Way From Georgia
11. Hard Worn Trail

I’ve always felt that “Long Way From Georgia” really reigned Mescalito in back to its dusty West Texas town persona. Not that “Hard Times,” “Dollar A Day,” and “Take It Easy Mama,” the three songs prior to it on the tracklisting don’t play into that thought or mindset, but “Long Way From Georgia” certainly makes you realize how isolated and desolate it is being out on the road. There’s a reason this song has very little than Bingham’s guitar and vocals on it. It’s every and any truck stop you’ve ever been in. It certainly has the ability to go far in this tournament.

Hard Worn Trail. Hard Worn Trail. Hard Worn Trail. Hard Worn Trail. Just hearing it continuously over the course of the song can take a toll. Bingham ultimately says Hard Worn Trail some 22 times. And I’m on the fence with that. On one side, that is a bit monotonous and can be perceived as lazy. On the other, it plays into making sure you know hard and worn that trail is. You feel it. There’s dirt in your hair and mouth after hearing it. Your “losing your damn mind on that hard worn trail.”

The most redeeming quality for “Hard Worn Trail” is just how piercing those guitars are. With T-Bone Burnett at the helm for Junky Star, that’s probably the best thing he was able to bring out. The guitar tones all over this album, but specifically on here, make you feel as though you’re never getting off this hard worn trail out in the middle of the American desert. It’s just not enough to get past the loneliness in “Long Way From Georgia.”
–THOMAS D. MOONEY

Winner: Long Way From Georgia

3. The Poet
14. You Are Blind

“Out to the back, the poet writes his songs in blood.” All of Junky Star cuts close to the bone. There’s minimal instrumentation on the entire record, but what’s there is just powerful and sharp. With “The Poet” being the opening track, Bingham really sets the tone for the entire record. It’s the farthest back he’s gone, submerged by (pre-) Depression-era blues and roots music. There’s maturity in his voice and lyrics.

You can’t tell if this song takes place in 2010 or 1910. And that’s probably the reason for the entire thing. As much as time goes by, things often stay the same. Time is literally suspended. The lonely, haunting harmonica on this murder ballad is the icing on the cake.

The reason “You Are Blind” ends up being a 14 seed lies solely on the fact that it’s nestled on Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. I guarantee you can count the amount of people who have heard it on one hand. But oh, it’s a hell of a well written song. It’s Bingham doing his best Dylan impression. Maybe a mixture of “Just Like a Woman” and “Visions of Johanna.”

However, therein lies a dilemma. As noted before, “You Are Blind” is found on the Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, which was/is a play written by Stephen King and John Mellencamp. The latter of which wrote all the songs on GBoDC. And while Bingham obviously does justice to the song, that mere fact, when all things are even, has to be the point that sends “The Poet” to victory.
–THOMAS D. MOONEY

Winner: The Poet

7. Ever Wonder Why
10. Self-Righteous Wall

People have told me that “Ever Wonder Why” is their favorite Bingham song, so it’s hard to bear this news. “And what you’re hearin’ now is something I found/Hiding way down inside/The cellar of my heart” and other lyrics about “starving to death” place this firmly in the category of the aforementioned #DarkBingham, but this song also shows how–especially in the Mescalito-era when Bingham wouldn’t be able to afford the lavish comforts of suburban L.A.–he could believably take on a story of desperate struggle and keep a thorough first-person perspective.

Side B of Junky Star never got much attention, but “Self-Righteous Wall” is the best example of when #DarkBingham can transcend comatose misery and show flashes of life. It’s a much more mature iteration of “Ever Wonder Why” in that it deals with the complexity of that end-of-the-line feeling. Instead of the heartbreak and emo resignation of “You can kiss my ass goodbye” on EWW, “Self-Righteous Wall” is the cry of someone truly on the rails–it’s one not of malaise but of anger: “You tellin’ me/That I’ve lost it all?/You tellin’ me/I’ve hit the wall?”
–RYAN HEAPE

Winner: Self-Righteous Wall

2. Guess Who’s Knockin’
15. Brotherly Love

Do I have a problem with “Guess Who’s Knockin’?” Well…that’s a difficult and complex answer. it’s  both not as great nor as bad as people say it is. However, it is the most polarizing song in the entire Ryan Bingham catalog. For starters, I really think it’s one of Bingham’s less than stellar written songs. Average. But of course, there are frats stacked on frats stacked on frats who think it’s their theme song. As if they’ve never heard the term “motherfucker” in their life and it’s an eye-opening experience. Sorry, you guys aren’t knocking on any doors.

On the other side though, there’s nothing wrong with unfiltered raw emotion oozing out of a song. And for some reason Mescalito-era elitists are wanting their broken-down cowboy Bingham back. They’re appalled because they feel there’s not any substance in the song and Heaven forbid, that Ryan Bingham is becoming a “sellout.” Neither of these sentiments are true though. It’s an average song with some muscled up guitars. Bingham doing something different.

If you skimmed passed what was written about “You Are Blind,” here’s the Cliffnotes: It’s on the Ghost Brothers of Darkland County soundtrack and was written by John Mellencamp. “Brotherly Love” is a little different though. It’s technically the second time Bingham’s recorded a song with another singer. The first was “Ghost of Travelin’ Jones” with Lubbock singer-songwriter legend Terry Allen. Here, Bingham hooks up with singer-songwriter Will Dailey. There’s a hole in the song somewhere. My best guess who be there’s not as much chemistry as there should have been.

With that, “Guess Who’s Knockin'” gets the victory, albeit backpedaling in. From here on out, it’s on upset alert.
–THOMAS D. MOONEY

Winner: Guess Who’s Knockin’

By the Numbers

Per Album

Pre-Mescalito: 1
Mescalito: 4
Roadhouse Sun: 2
Junky Star: 4
Tomorrowland: 3
Soundtracks/Other: 2

Album Record

Pre-Mescalito: 0-1
Mescalito: 2-2
Roadhouse Sun: 1-1
Junky Star: 3-1
Tomorrowland: 2-1
Soundtracks/Other: 0-2

Sangre de Cristo Round II Match-ups*

1. Southside of Heaven
9. Flower Bomb

5. Direction of the Wind
4. Country Roads

6. Long Way From Georgia
3. The Poet

10. Self-Righteous Wall
2. Guess Who’s Knockin’

*Note: Round II of the Sangre de Cristo Region will be posted Tuesday, August 26, 2013.

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8 responses to “Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day II Round 1 of Sangre de Cristo Region

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