Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day V Round 1 of Hippies in Austin 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 Hippies in Austin 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
Monday: First Round of Hippies in Austin Region (Today)
Tuesday: Second Round of Sangre de Cristo and Devil’s Backbone Region
Wednesday: Second Round of Hippies in Austin and Cowboys in Mexico Region


Hippies in Austin Region

1. The Weary Kind
16. Big Country Sky

You’re often never able to pinpoint a specific time in which a singer-songwriter or band “made” it. And by no means am I suggesting that Bingham wasn’t successful prior to Crazy Heart. But come on, winning a Grammy, Golden Globe, and an Oscar for one individual song does certainly elevate you to another level. “The Weary Kind” at the very least opened up the eyes and ears of the masses making Bingham more of a household name. Certainly does help that the song captured the familiar lonesomeness found in much of Bingham’s catalog at the time. This Letterman performance captures the song perfectly. 

The strange, yet interesting thing about “The Weary Kind” is that it’s written by Bingham, who was in his late 20s at the time, but was supposed to have been written by Bad Blake, a past his prime 60-year-old drunk country legend. And the reason he’s able to write this song is because he’s experienced all these hard, difficult, straining relationships in his lifetime and only a man such as The Dude could put that to paper. Yet it here it comes from Mr. Bingham (and T-Bone Burnett). So we’re really saying one of two things with that: 1) That the song isn’t as great as we think it is because it’s cheapened by that fact somehow or 2) Bingham’s had one hell of a life so far for a now, 32 year-old man. That despite being more than half the age of the main character, Bingham’s experienced so much, he’s been able to pull out a song that’s so believable, hardened, and open, that we want to believe this Guy Clark meets Kris Kristofferson character could have only written it. 

Winner: The Weary Kind

8. Hey Hey Hurray
9. Lay My Head On The Rail

I really think “Hey Hey Hurray” is Bingham testing his limits. Seeing just how far he can go and see if he can piss off some people. Will people get offended by this? How about this? Let me make a countryfied “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Like Dylan’s SHB, he’s going all over the place at a mile a minute. “Oh no, don’t make a stand. You might piss off the government man. He might put a pistol in your hand. Put you on a boat to go play in the sand” and talking about corporate America pumping poison in your veins, the modern police state of America, Prozac nation, and foreign policy just to name a few. 

It’s supposed to be chaotic. It also probably has our favorite marijuana Bingham reference: Write your words down on a bong, roll that joint and smoke this song.

“Lay My Head On The Rail” on the other hand, is calm and collected. It’s a mature Bingham and is one of those secretly great moments that happen on albums. It captures another aspect of the highway and road life. Yes, it’s properly lonesome and fits both for a modern Bingham or a ’40s blues-folk singer-songwriting Bingham stuck in time.

Winner: Lay My Head On The Rail

5. Junky Star
12. Keep It Together

Junky Star is just one long murder ballad. It’s the murder ballad told six or seven ways. You couldn’t pick a better one off the record than the song that it shares a name with either. When Bingham told stories previously, they weren’t ever full stories. They’d be more like character traits and a few details, but never a beginning, middle, and end. 

I don’t think it’s Bingham’s most personal record by any means, but it’s probably his most complete and best set of songs he’s written. Obviously there are bits and pieces of Bingham throughout, but not to the extent of Mescalito, Roadhouse Sun, or even Tomorrowland.  “Junky Star” is the most John Steinbeck Bingham’s ever gone before–and probably ever will for that matter. He’s leaving the two real loves of his life behind in the plains–his wife and farm–looking for the coast after shooting a man who’s come to take his farm away.

He finally gets to the coast and becomes a Junky Star–more a junky though.

Winner: Junky Star

4. Boracho Station
13. No Help From God

I must say, I wish there was more of this in later Bingham records. The Spanish guitar and mariachi influence on Bingham’s work is often there. It’s typically subtle, but will come out full-fledged in some instances–like “Boracho Station” and most recently, “Until I’m One With You.” It’s to date, Bingham’s shortest song clocking in at only three seconds over two minutes. 

And it sounds so much better in Spanish than in English–especially about the sky and mountains and drunk horses.

Olas cielo y toca la sierra
Trabajando amigos asi entiendo le pierra
Vaqueros montamos, Caballos borachos
Esperando a siente del sol
Paro en Mexico

“No Help From God” falls in the middle of Bingham’s Tomorrowland, and while it sounds much like some of Bingham’s best from the record, I must say, there’s something missing here which I just can’t put my finger on. Even when Bingham’s trying to capture some intimate setting and raw isolated emotions, it feels mostly despondent and detached.

Winner: Boracho Station

6. Hard Times
11. Change Is

“Change Is” is really a slow burner. That introduction feels like the opening of a ’70s Western film. A wide view on the desert or high plains that slowly starts moving over the landscape gaining speed until it comes across the scars on the land made by man. Usually a railroad track. By the time the big, bustling guitars come in, you’re at like a Mexican standoff, gunfight, or great train robbery.

And still, that can beat the genuine feel goodness of “Hard Times.” I’m not positive if it’s an uplifting song or if it just feels that way because it’s surrounded by the dark, often depressing tunes on Mescalito.  I’d like to think it stands out as such even without Mescalito. It’s still built in reality though and not some kind of gilded Wal-Mart country bullshit though. There’s still some #DarkBingham in there. The brutally honest Bingham just says it like it is.

When I was young my daddy said, Son
Never be ashamed of where your from
There’s nothin wrong with your last name
Don’t be looking for people to blame

Winner: Hard Times

3. Dollar A Day
14. Rising of the Ghetto

This really is a day of contradicting Binghams. “Dollar a Day” is fun, care-free, brutally honest. “Rising of the Ghetto” is overly serious and, well, really trying too hard. It’s actually a little hard to take serious for some reason. Not that he can’t write songs that are so serious that they’re sobering. I’ll go ahead and say it though, ‘Rising of the Ghetto” is one of the worst Bingham songs out there. I don’t think anything sticks. 

“Dollar A Day” gets an easy victory here, but it’s not just because of the match-up. It’d be victorious over a good amount of songs. It’s something just about everyone’s felt at one time or another. Feeling that you’re getting screwed over by the man. He once again talks about foreign policy, but this time, it’s really almost subtle. He’s almost patronizing here when he’s talking about all his buddies, brothers, and friends who are over in the Middle East and are “Fighting for my freedom and a little bit of oil.” But it’s not a jab at the troops by any means. He’s just pointing out Big Brother’s true intentions and how they jerk whoever around just for  little bit of oil. It’s probably his simplest, but most true, comments on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Winner: Dollar A Day

7. Don’t Wait For Me
10. Never Ending Show

These two songs couldn’t be going in two more opposite directions. “Don’t Wait For Me” is this hard swallow about leaving while “Never Ending Show” is rambler about coming home. They still care about whose at home, but #DarkBingham is obviously the one scribbling down the “Sorry, I’m leaving” note on a scrap of paper and leaving it on the kitchen counter. In some ways, it’s an even somber and depressing “Dead Flowers.” And that’s pretty fucking difficult to do. 

Where “Don’t Wait For Me” is about telling someone to move on and don’t worry about Bingham wandering through the hills, “Never Ending Show” Bingham has had enough mending fences and playing shows. Though, I’d bet he would have a hard time saying all this if Americanarama was a never-ending show. It’s one of the songs that really works on Tomorrowland as well–that mix of country and rock. 

If you were able to see these two go at it visually, both would come out bloody, bruised eyes, and broken noses. Some cracked ribs possibly. They’re two songs that couldn’t be more even. With that, #DarkBingham’s grit moves on. 

Winner: Don’t Wait For Me

2. Sunrise
15. Wishbone Saloon

That fiddle just sounds like the sun rising doesn’t? “Sunrise” is doing just so many little different things, that on their own, wouldn’t stand, but combined, feel just enough whole to make a song. It’s meant to be a rough, coarse desert song. And they could have left it just as that. But Bingham and company did something different. Towards the end, it gains speed and has this strange echoed vocal right before abruptly ending and bleeding into “For What It’s Worth.”

“Wishbone Saloon,” despite being written around the same time, sounds drastically different. It’s a honky-tonking good time song. And I’d actually say that while being a good song, it’s someone else’s sound. It’s not the dark-isolated, sepia country we’ve been accustomed to and that we find all over Mescalito. 

Winner: Sunrise

By the Numbers

Per Album

Pre-Mescalito: 2
Mescalito: 5
Roadhouse Sun: 2
Junky Star: 2
Tomorrowland: 4
Soundtracks/Other: 1

Album Record

Pre-Mescalito: 0-2
Mescalito: 5-0
Roadhouse Sun: 0-2
Junky Star: 2-0
Tomorrowland: 0-4
Soundtracks/Other: 1-0

Hippies in Austin Round II Match-ups*

1. The Weary Kind
9. Lay My Head On The Rail

5. Junky Star
4. Boracho Station

6. Hard Times
3. Dollar A Day

7. Don’t Wait For Me
2. Sunrise

*Note: Round II of the Hippies in Austin Region will be posted Tuesday, August 26, 2013.


5 responses to “Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day V Round 1 of Hippies in Austin Region

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

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

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