Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day VI Sangre de Cristo/Devil’s Backbone Round II

ryan-bingham-2by: Thomas D. Mooney

We’ll be covering the Second Round of the Ryan Bingham Song Tournament over the course of the next two days. Today we’re taking on the Sangre de Cristo and Devil’s Backbone Regions. Tomorrow will be the Hippies in Austin and Cowboys in Mexico Regions.

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. 

Tuesday: 16 vs 17 Seeds
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

Second Round of Sangre de Cristo and Devil’s Backbone Regions (Today)

Bingham5Sangre de Cristo Region

1. Southside of Heaven
9. Flower Bomb

Sometimes, you think there’s a song so great, a record so amazing, a line that just hits you with all its’ might, that you become overwhelmed. You think you have all these relevant and vital things to say about it. It just strikes a chord with you. And then when finally given your chance to say something meaningful about said record, song, or line, you come up blank. You’re just so overwhelmed with it.

That’s “Southside of Heaven.” You become overwhelmed with the task. It’s so much bigger than you, me, and Bingham ever truly imagined it to be. It captures what the early Bingham had to say. And really, it becomes something substantially bigger and better than what you’d ever read on paper. Ryan Bingham is “Southside of Heaven.” He is that song. You’re not a Bingham fan if you don’t love this song or know each and every word of this song.

Had we asked what the most important, essential, or best representative instead of “Greatest song” in this song tournament, “Southside of Heaven” would have easily won. Because, if you don’t understand it, you don’t understand Bingham. And hell, “Southside of Heaven” just very well could be crowned the greatest song of his as well.

Winner: Southside of Heaven

5. Direction of the Wind
4. Country Roads

“Direction of the Wind” is the first of two songs that I really feel are inferior to their second round contemporaries. (Guess who’s the second.) There’s not much more to say about “Direction of the Wind” to be perfectly honest. Some songs in a songwriter’s catalog are going to be below average to average. There’s nothing wrong with that. Even The Beatles had a few duds. Remember that.

Ah, the good ol’ days when you could write a song about a country road and not sound like a complete douche. What the hell happened since then is beyond me explaining in fewer than a solid 5000 words. Simply put though, there’s not a money grab agenda with “Country Roads” like there is with so many “dirt road and a pick-up and a case of cheap beer” songs that circulate the airwaves today. It’s not wishy-washy. Bingham didn’t write it because it was a simple device to end up on the radio.

The success of the song probably comes from the fact that Bingham didn’t stick to the surface of country roads. It’s about escaping and going to country roads, but not because of any superficial reasons.

It ain’t that I can’t see,
Or find my way home,
It’s just that I like to breath,
Out on country roads.

Breath. See. Find his way home. Those reasons carry more weight than usual on this song. It’s about not being confined to your hometown. If anything, it’s the modern country version of “Born to Run.” Bingham and The Boss were exploring the same subject matter more or less.

Winner: Country Roads

6. Long Way From Georgia
3. The Poet

What made Mescalito was the simple fact that each and every song was more believable than the previous. You believed Bingham more than anything else on that record. Honesty is easily the most important characteristic for any great song–especially one described as a great country song. Certain things added to that formula undoubtedly add to it, but it all starts from believability. That’s what drives “Long Way From Georgia” more than anything else. You know Bingham has sitting in plenty of truck-stops late at night sipping coffee and chain-smoking cigarettes.

The song is definitely about the isolation found on the open American highway. The great loneliness that finds you. It’s a place where you really only speak in small talk and your true companions are just the aforementioned coffee, cigarettes, and your guitar. But, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the song is the last verse in which Bingham talks about being told by a passing waitress that he’s got a good smile and how it can take me a long way from Georgia. But is that smile a fake one? Are your smiles genuine or just good manners when their shared with strangers?

We come to a point in which we must decide what’s better: simplicity or complexity. Storytelling or character sketches. That’s what you’re drawn into when comparing “Long Way From Georgia” and ‘The Poet.” There’s an innocence to “Long Way From Georgia” that makes it more charming. But “The Poet,” Bingham’s showing off more diversity and songwriting knowledge. He’s really telling a story. And the line “The poet writes his songs in blood” can be interpreted numerous ways.

The most overlooked and probably not really even thought of as a consequence by Bingham when written is just how much of a foreshadow there is with that line. The poet writes his songs in blood. Bingham being the poet, his songs being Junky Star. The blood being murder ballads and songs about trains.

There’s also real faint connection between it and “Boracho Station.” Here he says “My horse ain’t too drunk” were in “Boracho Station,” he talks about “Vaqueros montamos, Caballos borachos,” which means cowboys ride drunk horses. Now I admit, that’s (probably) reading too much into Bingham’s catalog, but interesting nevertheless.

Winner: The Poet 

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

As we talked about the very first day, “Guess Who’s Knockin'” isn’t the most impressive song written by Bingham. While it does come equipped with a very grungy, fat, and gritty guitar riff, it’s just not enough to look past the clumsy, overwhelmingly simple, raw lyrics. And I just don’t understand why some people love this song so much. I’d love to legitimately ask people what it is that makes them love GWK so much. Why does it resonate with you? Why do you relate to knocking on doors?

I’m positive I’d have less of a negative opinion if it weren’t being used as a battle cry and anthem by a sliver of Bingham’s most recent fan base. And I’m not talking in generalities here. Not everyone is like this, but we know for fact that your local frat-bros just eat this shit up. I don’t get the infatuation. As it were though, even without this aspect, my opinion of the song would only go up a couple of notches on the Bingham Songwriting Scale.

Self-Rightous Wall on the hand has a fairly simple questioning chorus as well (“You’re tellin’ me I’ve lost it all? You’re tellin’ me I’ve hit the wall?) but isn’t flat or boring at all. It’s a thinker. You can’t help but ask yourself how much of this song is him writing as a character (on a record about characters, Junky Star) and how much of it is Bingham writing about himself. Has Bingham ever come to a moment of clarity and had an epiphany about becoming someone he didn’t want to be? That’s be speculative at best, but it makes “Self-Righteous Wall” all the more impressive.

Winner: Self-Righteous Wall

Devil’s Backbone Region

1. Bread and Water
9. Never Far Behind

I dare you to find a better introduction into a Bingham song than “Bread and Water.” It’s a tumbleweed blowing down the street before gaining speed into oncoming traffic. It’s obviously a hell of a song. We didn’t name the four regions for this tournament after four things mentioned in the song for nothing.

It’s a strange combination of country and rock that Gram Parsons probably didn’t envision when he helped create and pioneer the term in the early ’70s. But regardless, it’s there. Mandolin, a driving, thumping drum rhythm, and a well placed guitar lick. They’re all there. And it’s strange how a song just some six years old has become the prototype for some many upstart bands not just in Texas, but across the entire nation. Everyone from Dirty River Boys to Shovels & Rope have tried to replicate it. Maybe not consciously, but at the very least, were encouraged and driven by someone influenced by it.

Course, like mentioned before, we’re not asking which Ryan Bingham song has had the largest impact musically? Which Ryan Bingham has been his most influential? What represents Ryan Bingham, the songwriter and artist, best? That’s not what we’re talking about at the end of the day. We’re asking, which is the best. We love exploring those other questions and would be foolish to not consider those questions and answers when deciding, but it’s best.

So yes, “Never Far Behind” may not have the bigger impression, but it is a better song than “Bread and Water.”

This isn’t a love song. It’s fits much better as a song to a family member, a parent specifically. I don’t know all the dynamics and nature of Bingham’s childhood or relationship with his parents, but if this is any hint, it’s one that many have–a love-hate relationship. One that, for whatever reason may be rocky at best.

Or maybe that interpretation isn’t accurate at all and says more about myself than the song itself. But I think that works the best. Regardless, it’s a hell of a song about a complex, rough relationship that ultimately ends in loss. Like the song “Best of Me,” I feel this is the closest we get to looking Bingham in the eyes and really seeing the personal aspects of his life. Sure he’s let us in and revealed particular characteristics and facts about himself through song before, but this feels much more personal. It’s Bingham at the core. Where “Bread and Water” is a song Bingham wanted to write, “Never Far Behind” was one that he had to write.  For closure, for space, for comprehension, for clarity, for whatever reason known only to Bingham.

Winner: Never Far Behind

5. Beg For Broken Legs
4. Day Is Done

Sometimes I don’t think we credit Bingham enough for being angry and pissed off. We mask it and pass it off as something else. “Beg For Broken Legs” is a pissed off Bingham doing his modern Woody Guthrie. Which, you may not realize is an awfully difficult thing to do without sounding like an angsty teenager or writing the next “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister. And though Twisted Sister is technically a New York hair metal band, the next statement still rings true: Thank God Bingham wasn’t inspired by skid row and decide to make that kind of LA album when recording Tomorrowland.

And while I’ll admit “Beg For Broken Legs” does have this social disconnect between words and music, it’s nothing to really turn your nose up at. To explain further, “Broken Legs” does have an extravagant arrangement for a song about social injustice. The string section does have some overkill qualities.

For a good chunk of Bingham songs, even when he’s speaking out about certain hot topics (social inequality, unemployment, drug laws, domestic and foreign policy, etc) he can come across as being easy come, easy go. Points come out more as observations rather than actual comments. That doesn’t happen with “Broken Legs.” And that’s a good thing.

“Day is Done” does just as great a job of setting a tone as any other album opener (“Beg For Broken Legs” for example) has done. “When the day is done, I was born a bad man’s son” coming with crunchy, fat guitar licks directly after soft, quiet verses is a great setup for the record and makes the song.

Had you spoke with me when the record was released back in ’07, I’d have probably told you about how I thought Bingham was on a career path in which he’d bridge the gap between country and indie rock music like no one before him. That subsequent records were going to be not just great records or even impacting records, but that at least one would serve as a game-changing record if you will. One that would be considered “all-time great” not just by country and Americana enthusiasts, but by the mainstream media and “experts.” That opinion was deeply invested and influenced by the majority of songs on Roadhouse Sun (“Endless Ways,” “Wishing Well,” “Change Is”) and a few on Mescalito (“Dollar A Day,” “Take It Easy Mama”), but none more so than “Day Is Done.”

While I don’t necessarily feel that way today, I still think there’s a possibility for Bingham to do just that. The window on making a dark country-Strokes by Bingham isn’t closed just yet.

Winner: Day Is Done

6. Bluebird
3. Depression

It’s maybe a little strange, but “Depression” is really subtly rocking. it’s especially so when compared to the rest of Junky Star, but even when you don’t think of it as a rocking song, it does come with more of a punch than you realize. Even though Bingham’s singing about being stuck in a depression, though he doesn’t specify which depression he’s even living through, I’d like to think it hints mostly towards The Great one. There’s some Steinbeckian lines about heading out to California and what not. That’s actually what makes “Depression” such a greatly written song though.

It’s versatile enough to be able to fit the ’30s, the early ’80s, or mid ’00s and be applicable. It’s just vague enough to fit whichever, but not to the point where it’s absolutely meaningless, dull, and stale. In a weird way, “Depression” is a love song. Bingham’s singing about how he doesn’t even care about if he keeps his job, which as you can gather, is a pretty hot commodity during a depression, because all he really cares about is his significant other. He can fall to the lowest rung on the totem pole and it doesn’t matter one bit because of it.

Likewise, Bingham’s pretty much set no matter the situation due to his love for his blue bird. In each song, his love is really his saving grace. She’s his redemption. Bingham’s best quality in each song is in the way he’s able to express these sentiments without falling prey to clichés or yawnworthy lines. It’s just that “Depression” has a few more of these lines than “Bluebird.”

Winner: Depression

7. Sunshine
2. Dylan’s Hard Rain

I can’t get over how mesmerizing the guitars and fiddle are on “Sunshine.” You can just feel the glimmer of sun rays bouncing off them as they catch you in the eyes and temporarily blind you. It’s like an amped up Townes Van Zandt song. Lightning Hopkins would be awfully proud. At the core, it’s a blues song. The Talking Sunshine Blues. The Ain’t No Blood on My Two Hands Blues.

But does it have enough to get past a bonafide honky-tonking sing-a-long rambler? That’s “Dylan’s Hard Rain” for you. At some point in Bingham’s career–sometime even between Mescalito and Roadhouse Sun–Bingham went from probably liking and appreciating Dylan to studying and wanting to write some songs like the greatest American songwriter. “Dylan’s Hard Rain” is one of those first songs by Bingham where he just hits the nail directly on the head in an attempt to sound like himself and Dylan simultaneously without sounding like a knockoff.

Most of the time, when someone tries to do a Dylan impression, they focus more on the voice and not the lyrics. They try the nasally croon and get it all wrong. Bingham stays true to himself by not trying to sing like someone else, but rather focusing on the other elements. For starters, it has the usual instruments (guitar, bass, drums), but has multiple “ascent” sounds such as piano, fiddle, and who knows what else. You can hear each individual instrument when you pay attention, but the great beauty of it all is how well they play with one another in a manner where you don’t really veer off the lyrical path. You’re not distracted by them.

Even though Bingham doesn’t achieve any amazing feats of literature in “Dylan’s Hard Rain,” there’s plenty of Dylanesque qualities to the lyrics. Specifically “On the T.V. there’s a white man, Too much make up on his wife with god’s plan. I guess the religious vote, made it to congress” feel like they could have been included on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan or The Times They are A-Changin’.

Winner: Dylan’s Hard Rain

By The Numbers

Per Album

Mescalito: 4
Roadhouse Sun: 4
Junky Star: 4
Tomorrowland: 4

Album Record

Mescalito: 1-3
Roadhouse Sun: 3-1
Junky Star: 3-1
Tomorrowland: 1-3

Sangre de Cristo and Devil’s Backbone Sweet Sixteen Match-ups

1. Southside of Heaven
4. Country Roads

3. The Poet
10. Self-Righteous Wall

9. Never Far Behind
4. Day Is Done

3. Depression
2. Dylan’s Hard Rain


4 responses to “Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day VI Sangre de Cristo/Devil’s Backbone Round II

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

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

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

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

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