Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day III Round 1 of Devil’s Backbone 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 four days. Today, we’re taking on the Devil’s Backbone 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. 

Here’s a running schedule of been and going to be published when and where.

Tuesday: 16 vs 17 Seed Match-ups
Wednesday: First Round of Sangre de Cristo Region
Thursday: First Round of Devil’s Backbone Region (Today)
Friday: First Round of Cowboys in Mexico Region
Monday: First Round of Hippies in Austin Region


Devil’s Backbone Region

1. Bread and Water
16. Roadhouse Gypsy

“Roadhouse Gypsy” sounds like a random amalgamation of titles of other Bingham tunes. Remember that one time you gave your dad a mix CD of various Ryan Bingham stuff to diversify his bland country palette? When you saw him later at Thanksgiving and you asked him what his favorites were he probably said something like, “That voice takes a lot of getting used to, but yeah my favorites are probably ‘Whiskey Horse Saloon,’ ‘Tequila Sunset Pachuco,’ and ‘Roadhouse Gypsy’!” only “Roadhouse Gypsy” wasn’t on the mix you gave him.

But “Roadhouse Gypsy” is a real song and a real good one. Early Bingham was at his best when he really let the Dead Horses cook behind him and this song is a fine example of that. “Bread And Water” was the song your dad meant when he told you his favorite from your mix was something like “Dirty Wellwater Desperado.”

Winner: Bread and Water

8. Strange Feelin’ in the Air
9. Never Far Behind


That’s been going off since we officially seeded everything in this tournament. “Never Far Behind” isn’t just one of those deep cuts from an artists catalog that’s overlooked or underappreciated; it’s one of the best songs Bingham’s ever cut to begin with. As you should know by now, seeds are based on popularity. And for a song that’s a 9 seed, it has potential to not only win the Devil’s Backbone Region, but the entire damn thing.

It sounds nothing like he’s ever written before, but is deeply rooted in the #DarkBingham persona. This is what critics must have based their opinions on when they called Tomorrowland Bingham’s “indie-rock record.” I grant you that, “Never Far Behind” has this Brooklyn buzz band aura to it. But there’s still plenty of Texas roaming within. Let’s see if The National will cover it one day.

The one thing I fear with Junky Star songs is the notion that you really shouldn’t judge them individually, but rather as a whole piece. I primarily do that when listening to records–and suggest you do the same for that matter–but the nature of this entire exercise is to dissect songs individually. With that, “Strange Feelin’ In the Air” comes across as a much stronger song within the context of Junky Star. Possibly matched up against another song, it’d be moving on to the second round, but it drew the short end of the stick with this match-up.

Winner: Never Far Behind

5. Beg For Broken Legs
12. I Don’t Know

Ryan Bingham’s cameo as the polite, herb chiefing, abnormally good-looking band dude in the amazing Crazy Heart is a meta delight. “I Don’t Know,” unlike “The Weary Kind” which was supposed to define the whole film, was clearly meant to read as an old stock country chart-topper for Jeff Bridge’s Bad Blake character. What I’m not sure about is how much effort Bingham and songwriters Stephen Burton and T-Bone Burnett really put into this one–the “Baby, I don’t know” chorus seems to give us the answer. But this goes to show that country music can be damned delightful when it figures out what works and doesn’t try too hard. If there is a such thing as “Texas Country” anymore, it should probably sound a lot like “I Don’t Know.”

“Beg For Broken Legs” by contrast is perhaps Bingham’s most try-hard song, with its spiraling Kashmir-esque strings and shouty chorus. Much of Tomorrowland was spent trying to break the molds of things like “I Don’t Know,” and one of the results is some 18-instrument swell behind Bingham screaming, “I ain’t gonna bite my tongue/Beg for broken legs no more.” That works too, I guess.

Winner: Beg For Broken Legs

4. Day Is Done
13. The Road I’m On

This is a match-up of Bingham’s more rock-oriented album cuts. Tomorrowland’s “The Road I’m On” features a backbreaking road-ready time signature with pub-ready phrasing like “One more toke!” and “Ah, fuck it I’m headed home.” For what it’s worth, this song sounds exactly like fellow Tomorrowland cut “Heart Of Rhythm,” and I wonder if lyrics from the two could have combined to make one good song instead of the two mildly pleasurable ones we’re left with.

“Day Is Done” leads off Roadhouse Sun with a sense of arrival and authority. After Mescalito, we weren’t sure if Bingham was going to rest on his Americana laurels or try to evolve somehow. When I heard “Day Is Done,” it surprised me how considered and carefully crafted I immediately knew Roadhouse Sun was going to be. And sure, this song is an existential declaration of one’s own involuntary badassery, but those opening notes are so hopeful. I think I’ve heard the hook on that slide riff in several songs since then: Wild Nothing’s “Nowhere,” Kings of Leon’s “Radioactive,” even in The Chain Gang Of 1974’s indie club anthem “Undercover.” Maybe that hook is in a thousand songs peppered throughout the entirety of human history and I just haven’t noticed it.

Winner: Day Is Done

6. Bluebird
11. Wishing Well

Roadhouse Sun deep cuts. These two are actually two of my favorites. They also seem to be the first two genuine love songs in the Bingham repertoire. Which, when first presented, doesn’t seem it can be right. There had to be something on Mescalito or pre-Mescalito, right? I suppose you could make the case for “Don’t Wait For Me,” but it’s not a full-fledged love song attempt. These two are.

Bingham once again goes with repetition (No, I’m not talking about choruses) when dealing with “Bluebird.” For those counting at home, that’d be about the third time I’ve mentioned it. As previously mentioned, is that considered lazy songwriting or having a certain style to your writing? I tend to lean towards Bingham finding a device that works well. Hopefully it doesn’t end up being a crutch.

“Bluebird” happens to be one of the few Bingham tunes that are vivid color. When everything else is stuck in sepia, “Bluebird” pops. Course, there’s some #DarkBingham that has to seep on through: “Because I know if I stay waiting, my bluebird is gonna bleed to death.”

Winner: Bluebird

3. Depression
14. Roadhouse Blues

Oh, here’s a song called “Roadhouse Blues” from the album Roadhouse Sun from the artist who brought you “Roadhouse Gypsy” that you probably heard inside an actual roadhouse while watching the movie Road House. ROADHOUSE ROADHOUSE ROADHOUSE. That word looks so stupid when you type it out 68 times before you subsequently delete them until there’s only three left. Anyway, “Roadhouse Blues” would probably sound awesome live. In a roadhouse. After about three or six of these.

“Depression” dropped as a single in 2010 when 1) the recession had really taken a hold of everyone and 2) I was a sophomore in college deciding between buying ramen or re-upping my printing account only to buy a 40 oz. of Mickey’s. We’ll go deeper into this song as it advances in this bracket, but for now, just know that, once in a while, a simple reminder to cling to love in a time of extreme brokeness is undeniably important.

Winner: Depression

7. Sunshine
10. Yesterday’s Blues

In Mescalito-era Binghamland, the sun rarely shines. It strikes down upon you in an intense blazing fashion. It soaks the life out of everything. There aren’t any shadows to recoup. That fiddle is like a match to Bingham’s gasoline. Everything’s set to fire. Really, it’s one of Bingham’s most traditional sounding songs he’s ever written. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was based on an old, long, lost, and forgotten blues song.

It’s also one of the best examples of saying so much with so few words. He lets you fill in the plot holes while he’s only talking in generalizations and specific details. “Along the road ahead some lawmen really want me dead” and “said I ain’t done nothing with these two hands. See there ain’t no blood, ain’t no blood on my hands.” Anton Chigurh‘s theme song.

I really wish “Yesterday’s Blues” could win here. It’s a damn fine song in which Bingham’s really been able to refine his “love song” writing skills. Just look at those first two verses:

Well, I shook the hand of a weeping sparrow
And heard the most beautiful tune
Laid myself down upon a field of flowers
And searched through my dreams to find you
And lost all of yesterday’s blues

And I walked in circles confused and scattered
And stumbled around as a fool
Lost in the maze of veins in my heart
‘Til I woke up unconscious with you
And let go of yesterday’s blues

It’s strangely has this contradiction in it. He’s talking about losing yesterday’s blues, but even that feels like a gloomy process. You hear no satisfaction or even a slight glimpse of relaxation or ease in his voice. There’s just man of constant sorrow and lonesome harmonica.

Winner: Sunshine

2. Dylan’s Hard Rain
15. Lonesome Valley

Remember yesterday when I mentioned how people acted like Bingham invented the word motherfucker when they heard “Guess Who’s Knockin'” for the first time and how it was a little bit of an overkill? Well. “GIVE HIM YOUR CASH MOTHERFUCKER. HE’S TOO FAST FOR YOU” is the perfect Bingham line. It’s even a great line when on radio promos he substituted “you ol’ sucker.” (That’s line specifically at 2:06) I’d dare to say that to precise moment, “Dylan’s Hard Rain” is the prototype for a Bingham song. It’s the song you show people when they’ve never heard him before. A great representation of the man. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m saying it’ll win the entire tournament, but it wouldn’t be surprising either. More on this song in later rounds.

“Lonesome Valley” truly is a forgotten song. It shows up in the middle of a NCIS: Los Angeles soundtrack. Which, on a side note, is surprisingly a pretty good collection of songs (The Wild Feathers, Ice Cube, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Bingham, Jakob Dylan, Gaslight Anthem, etc) for such a sub-par show. It has some great storytelling and one of Bingham’s best lines in “I shoot the double-crossers down. Cause you see, I ain’t no outlaw. Just a cowboy on the prowl.” There’s something very Marty Robbins about the whole thing. It’s just that it just doesn’t have enough David in it to take on ol’ Dylan’s Hard Goliath.

Winner: Dylan’s Hard Rain

By the Numbers

Per Album

Pre-Mescalito: 1
Mescalito: 2
Roadhouse Sun: 5
Junky Star: 3
Tomorrowland: 3
Soundtracks/Other: 2

Album Record

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

Devil’s Backbone Round II Match-ups*

1. Bread and Water
9. Never Far Behind

5. Beg For Broken Legs
4. Day Is Done

6. Bluebird
3. Depression

7. Sunshine
2. Dylan’s Hard Rain

*Note: Round II of the Devil’s Backbone Region will be posted Tuesday, August 27, 2013.


8 responses to “Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day III Round 1 of Devil’s Backbone Region

  1. Pingback: Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day II Round 1 of Sangre de Cristo Region | New Slang·

  2. Pingback: Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day IV Round 1 of Cowboys in Mexico Region | New Slang·

  3. Pingback: Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day V Round 1 of Hippies in Austin Region | New Slang·

  4. Pingback: Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day VI Sangre de Cristo/Devil’s Backbone Round II | New Slang·

  5. Pingback: Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day VII Hippies in Austin/Cowboys in Mexico Round II | New Slang·

  6. Pingback: Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day VII Sweet Sixteen | New Slang·

  7. Pingback: Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day VIII Elite Eight | New Slang·

  8. Pingback: Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day IX Final Four | New Slang·

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