Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day IV Round 1 of Cowboys in Mexico Region

Photos Courtesy of the Artist

Photos Courtesy of the Artist

by: Thomas D. Mooney

We’re breaking up the First Round up over the course of four days. Today, we’re taking on the Cowboys in Mexico 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
Friday: First Round of Cowboys in Mexico Region (Today)
Monday: First Round of Hippies in Austin Region


Cowboys in Mexico Region

1. Hallelujah
16. Bad Case of Gone

“Hallelujah” is the quintessential Bingham murder ballad. It’s not only the best one he’s written, but also the with the most interesting perspective. It’s all first person, but Bingham’s the one being robbed. Once shot, Bingham begins floating up into the ethers. You never see the stranger who went on to rob him blind, but rather, you stay with Bingham as he’s in death denial. It’s haunting, chilling, and even a bit difficult to swallow or get around.

It’s just as dark–if not darker–than anything he’s ever written. What happens to us after death? In this case, Bingham doesn’t want to leave or accept the fact that he’s not alive any more and is a wandering soul. Most chilling moments in the song are when you can hear the fear in Bingham’s voice. It’s most apparent when he’s going through the lines ” I’m not a one nighter. I’m not a flat liner. I’ve everything in between the harmony you’re singing loud.” It’s the ultimate denial.

I often wonder if our perception of these pre-Mescalito songs would be considerably different had they been the ones that were given a second life and recorded on that first Lost Highway record. Would we all feel “Bad Case of Gone” was a greater song than we do now? Most likely. Course we also don’t know how much would have changed. Even “Southside of Heaven” went under the knife. 

Winner: Hallelujah

8. The Wandering
9. Ghost of Travelin’ Jones

If you’ve never read New Slang before this, you’ll probably don’t understand just how much we love Terry Allen. It’s not that he makes the song or anything. But rather, there’s this great connection between the two. When Bingham first started out, a couple Lubbock cats really took him under their wing: Allen and Joe Ely to name a few. (We’ll hopefully be seeing some Bingham and Ely on stage together in a few short weeks matter of fact.) 

While there’s not so many definite songwriting aspects that connect Allen and Bingham, there’s this mutual admiration and a “no one’s gonna say it, but we’re both thinking it” idea between the two about passing some metaphorical torch between the old and new. I’d argue they’re two–especially Allen at this point–of the most important West Texas songwriters to date. 

It’s a shame “The Wandering’s” howling train harmonica aren’t making it further down the tracks. But as I said yesterday, Junky Star songs seem to stand better when they’re all together and lose some strength when sparring one on one. 

Winner: Ghost of Travelin’ Jones

5. Other Side
12. Too Deep to Fill

Out of the four regions, this was the one that sparked the most arguments between myself and our fearless leader, Thomas D. Mooney. He won a couple of them, but I did convince him not to advance “Too Deep To Fill” at the expense of Mescalito track “Other Side.” The argument went kind of like this:

Mooney: I don’t know man, “Too Deep To Fill” is good
Heape: no
Mooney: you think?
Heape: no
Heape: “Too Deep To Fill” sounds like faux-bluegrass
Heape: “Other Side” sounds like something Spoon could’ve done
Mooney: ok

Winner: Other Side

4. Heart of Rhythm
13. Best of Me

“Always gotta be a fuckin’ train.” That’s what makes “Best of Me” so real. And likewise, makes Mescalito definitively set in real life and not some Truck Yeah fantasy world. The last few days, we’ve been using the term “deep cuts” when talking about songs nestled in the back side of a record or something. But this, this is a real fucking deep cut. It’s some nine minutes into “For What It’s Worth” and sounds more like a field recording from the ’40s than anything else. 

In the wee hours of the morning, probably after a few too many beers, band members and friends convince an unsure Bingham to play that “Best of Me” song even though he’s not sure it’s good enough to make it onto Mescalito. “It’s too personal” and “not finished” is what Bingham says trying to hold them off before finally folding and playing it for a few folks. After he finishes, they don’t even know what to say to the man in front of them. They aren’t sure if they can look him in the eyes. They want to, but maybe peering into a man’s soul is too much for one night. 

That’s how it had to have happened, right?

“Heart of Rhythm” didn’t have a chance. I will give HoR props for putting up a good fight though. It does come armed to the teeth with some imagery. 

Come on honey we got nothing to lose,
We got the country and the rhythm and the blues,
We ain’t living in a promise land,
We got a heart full of rhythm in a wonderland,
I’ll give you more than silver and gold,
I got a heart full of rhythm and rock n roll.

The difference is that anyone could have sang “Heart of Rhythm.” Only Bingham could have done “Best of Me.”

Winner: Best of Me

6. Take It Easy Mama
11. Snake Eyes

This is an argument that I lost. “Snake Eyes” is a beautiful, penetrating song that has Bingham doing his trademark Spanish-style slide acoustic thing that just melts my ears. Growing up, my dad had this one Antonio de Lucena CD that he used to play over and over in the car. It was full of just classical spanish guitar–”Malaguena,” “Concierto de Aranjuez,” etc. Spanish guitar is the most soothing, forlorn, and yet biting sound to subject yourself to. That Bingham shared my infatuation with those sounds was what attracted me to him in the first place:

I’ve made the argument that “Take It Easy Mama” is what Tomorrowland should’ve sounded like. It should’ve been Bingham’s big, sexy L.A. record. After Junky Star, there were no more sparse, acoustic ghosts left to chase, and I thought he should’ve made something with groove and sophistication. Perhaps something Jeff Bridges might’ve thrown on in The Big Lebowski after groaning about how much he fucking hates The Eagles, man. That didn’t happen, but “Take It Easy Mama” is still there for you if you want to get down like that.

Winner: Take It Easy Mama

3. Until I’m One With You
14. Rollin’ Highway Blues

“Until I’m One With You” just works better as a theme song than it does as an actual four minute one. He says a total of 83 words in the entire thing. Sometimes that’s all you need. The Tex-Mex mariachi meets classical guitar is just brilliantly desolate. The vocals are spot on. The words are. Everything about it is. But it just feels too long. I’d argue that it could’ve came to an end much sooner and been just as great, if not better. 

“Rollin’ Highway Blues” captures #DarkBingham and heartbroken Bingham together. It’s more filled than “Until I’m One With You,” but just as empty and sparse. The piano drives the song along, but the guitar that comes in ever so often is what brings that song home. Bingham isn’t just heartbroken or having the blues either. It’s the rolling highway kind. Those are #DarkBingham’s stomping grounds. “Rollin’ Highway Blues” gets the nod to move on ahead with its’ lonesome whiskey-filled mind.

Winner: Rollin’ Highway Blues

7. Western Shore
10. All Choked Up Again

“You’ve got to live out loud/With no one to fear/With nothing around to bring you down or to give you tears.” That’s Bingham channeling a little Natasha Bedingfield on Tomorrowland opener “Western Shore.” Because as much as “Unwritten” accomplishes, it was definitely short on Manifest Destiny themes and a bearded man singing over distorted guitar and a full orchestra. This song advances to round two just off its determination alone. The rest is still unwritten.

“All Choked Up Again” is another one off of Junky Star’s deep bench of barren slow-burners. This is actually a pretty interesting one, but it’s frustrating when you start to realize that this song could’ve easily been shaped into a louder, more uptempo, Waylonesque banger. Perhaps that’s what Bingham meant by the title, “All Choked Up Again”? That he couldn’t let this song be the jam it was meant to be?

Winner: Western Shore

2. Tell My Mother I Miss Her So
15. As I Do My Dancing

Our first major upset! And it’s kind of upsetting, really. As you know, “Tell My Mother I Miss Her So” is a delightful mandolin-heavy two-step that fits perfectly between “Dylan’s Hard Rain” and “Country Roads” on Side A of Roadhouse Sun, and “As I Do My Dancing” was a free song downloadable from the Ryan Bingham email newsletter just before Tomorrowland dropped. I wanted to call it a B-side, but it didn’t even garner that level of dignity. More on that in a minute, but first, about “Tell My Mother I Miss Her So:” It’s such a fun song, and the closest Bingham ever got to replicating the energetic abandon of “Bread And Water.” Like that song, its message is so simple yet delivered with such carefree enthusiasm.

Just by looking at its title, “As I Do My Dancing” achieves similar results. I prefer its first line, “Sometimes I feel like a dirty city,” over any lyric that made it on Tomorrowland. The song is vintage Bingham, not just in its instrumental restraint but in the way it walks that tonal tight-rope somewhere between melancholy and the joyousness of truly not giving a fuck. Both this song and “Tell My Mother” are essential Bingham, but I have to believe “As I Do My Dancing” gets the nod because it feels that much more personal and ingenuous.

This was difficult and sucky.

Winner: As I Do My Dancing

By the Numbers

Per Album

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

Album Record

Pre-Mescalito: 0-1
Mescalito: 4-0
Roadhouse Sun: 1-2
Junky Star: 1-2
Tomorrowland: 1-2
Soundtracks/Other: 1-1

Cowboys in Mexico Round II Match-ups*

1. Hallelujah
9. Ghost of Travelin’ Jones

5. Other Side
13.. Best of Me

6. Take It Easy Mama
14. Rollin’ Highway Blues

7. Western Shore
15. As I Do My Dancing

*Note: Round II of the Cowboys in Mexico Region will be posted Tuesday, August 27, 2013.


9 responses to “Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day IV Round 1 of Cowboys in Mexico Region

  1. I feel like you did that big upset for comments (I guess it worked for me). I had Tell My Mother advancing all the way to the finals. As for As I Do My Dancing, it might be my least favorite song Bingham has done. Wow. Just wow.

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