Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day VII Hippies in Austin/Cowboys in Mexico Round II

ryan-bingham-2by: Thomas D. Mooney

The last few days we’ve been covering the Second Round of the Ryan Bingham Song Tournament. Yesterday we covered the Sangre de Cristo and Devil’s Backbone Regions and today we’ll be tackling the Hippies in Austin and Cowboys in Mexico Regions. Thursday and Friday we will take on the Sweet Sixteen match-ups of each 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. 

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
Thursday: Second Round of Sangre de Cristo and Devil’s Backbone Regions
Tuesday: Second Round of Hippies in Austin and Cowboys in Mexico Regions (Today)


Hippies in Austin Region

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

It’s really a battle of lo-fi Bingham. They’re both intentionally quiet, somber, and without much other than Bingham strumming. There’s a few ascents on “The Weary Kind,” but they don’t overtake the song and dominate it by any means. Both highlight the lonesome qualities of not just being a traveling musician, but also just the loneliness in the human condition. Where they split off though is how they’re connected to their lover. 

“Lay My Head On The Rail” sets the great imagery of Bingham night after night, singing his way back home to his lover. He doesn’t waste any words on “Lay My Head On the Rail” either. It’s all describing the small things. It’s “I ain’t seen a single smile since I left your town” and “If you could see my bleeding feet you might hang your head and cry.” And even though he’s broke down bleeding, at least he’s made it home. 

“The Weary Kind” couldn’t be farther off than that notion. Sure, Your body aches, playing your guitar, sweating out the hate. The days and the nights all feel the same” is very similar to “My fingertips are bleeding They’re right down to the bone.” He’s obviously talking about the same highway and the same gigs and the whole nine yards. But “The Weary Kind” Bingham and LMHOTR Bingham aren’t singing for the same reasons. 

Weary Bingham isn’t singing his way back home. How could he? “Your lovers won’t kiss. It’s too damn far from your fingertips. You are the man that ruined her world” could very well be the best three consecutive lines in Bingham’s career. Holy shit that’s good. 

Winner: The Weary Kind

5. Junky Star
4. Boracho Station

You won’t find many songs with better storytelling than “Junky Star.” That’s ultimately what makes it a better song than “Boracho Station.” Sure, “Boracho Station” has some beautiful language use in lines such as “Olas cielo y toca la sierra,” Esperando a siente del sol paro en Mexico,” and The heart of the desert pound under my heels.” But it doesn’t go with a deeper, more in-depth story like “Junky Star” does. 

Yes, “Boracho Station” is charming as hell with its Spanish lyrics and tales of Aztec gold located out in the hills of Mexico, but it ultimately leaves you wondering what Bingham would have said had he expanded on the idea. “Junky Star” leaves some holes for you to fill in yourself, but there’s so much more maturity in the songwriting. He delivers some detailed lines, but also pushes the plot forward and never sputters. 

Winner: Junky Star

6. Hard Times
3. Dollar A Day

Mescalito has three songs (“Dollar A Day,” “Boracho Station,” and “Other Side”) that are within 12 seconds of being under two minutes in length. In the three albums since, the only song that even remotely comes close to the two-minute mark is Tomorrowland‘s “The Road I’m On,” which is 2:22 for those counting at home.

As strange as it sounds, I think even that plays into Mescalito persona. Why? Well, because they each feel as though Bingham was out working in the goddamn sun and through all the sweat and callus carving work, he’s been humming lyrics to himself just waiting for a break to jot down some rash lyrics in a notebook before going back to work. There’s a feeling that these songs, weren’t written over the course of a few weeks, but rather just a few minutes.

There’s something engaging about that and relatable to the common every man. “Dollar A Day” probably captures it best. There’s a feeling that it very well could have been incomplete all the way up to the moment that Bingham stepped into the studio. But hell, Bingham could have also spent months molding the song.

Isn’t Bingham just about hard times? If you boil his songs down to one or two words, wouldn’t “Hard Times” be something you’d describe the entire catalog as describing? Working for a dollar a day, depressions, weary kinds, rollin’ highway blues, roadhouse blues, wishing wells, self-righteous walls, sunshine, sunrises, bread, water, poets, and junky stars all just hard times? Another side of hard times. Another slice of humble hard times pie. That’s Bingham’s songs.

“Hard Times” the song just says it more blatantly than the others. It’s screaming it while the others are whispering. It’s a “Boy Named Sue” when you really break it down. It’s all about your father helping provide some of that toughness you need growing up. Strangely enough, they both mention names. Bingham’s “There’s nothing wrong with your last name” provides, albeit quite differently, the same thing Sue’s dad did by naming him, well Sue.

Winner: Hard Times

7. Don’t Wait For Me
2. Sunrise

 Oh, my my
See them girls shake their ass
Underneath the sunrise
Oh, my my
Taste the sugar on their lips
Underneath that moonlight

Ultra serious songs don’t always prevail. Case in point. I wonder just how many people use “Sunrise” as their alarm clock in the morning. I’d imagine it’s a nice way to wake up each morning. A tranquil, easy feeling in its own way. 

Everyone speaks about how great West Texas sunsets are, and granted, they are. But West Texas sunrises are equally as majestic. “Sunrise” somehow sounds like what a West Texas sunrise looks like. It casts light upon quiet mesquite, rolling desert, and lost highways. Listening (and re-listening) to “Sunrise” you realize just how simple it all is. It’s all these fairly simple things working in unison truly creating something larger than its parts added together.

It can be difficult to find actual reasons why a song loses to another than just that it’s obvious that Song A is better Song B even when there’s nothing really horrible about Song B. “Don’t Wait For Me” easily falls into this kind of trap. It’s a good song being beaten by a better song. Simple enough. 

Winner: Sunrise

Cowboys in Mexico Region

1. Hallelujah
9. Ghost of Travelin’ Jones

“Hallelujah” very well could have been the most Bingham’s challenged himself to date when it comes to songwriting. Junky Star overall, was a challenge to Bingham. You could make the argument that Roadhouse Sun was the natural progression from Mescalito–though as we’ve talked about before, it’s quite different. But nevertheless, it was a progression. Junky Star wasn’t. It wasn’t Mescalito–>Roadhouse Sun–>Junky Star. Sure it’s Bingham’s third record, but it also feels like another debut record. Debuting a different Bingham. Bingham could have easily made a Mescalito Sun as his third studio record, but it would have surely had a plateauing feel to the entire thing.

Thank God he didn’t. It was a rejuvenating act of challenging his craft. “Hallelujah” is very much the crown jewel of Junky Star. It’s as though Bingham was really trying to find different ways to connect to songs and to audiences without throwing out his usual tricks. I really don’t know how much Bingham identifies with “Hallelujah.” I think it’s safe to say he’s more connected to “Southside of Heaven.”

Not even my shameless bias towards Terry Allen could save “Ghost of Travelin’ Jones” here. Maybe if it was going against something else, it’d have a pretty decent chance of advancing, but…well, you’ve heard “Hallelujah” before. Sometimes it’s just that easy. 

Winner: Hallelujah

5. Other Side
13. Best of Me

I wonder if Bingham spent any time hanging out with Britt Daniel of Spoon when he lived in Austin. Are we sure “Other Side” wasn’t a co-write between the two? This feels like something Spoon would have toyed around with before scraping it feeling it wasn’t a good idea to stray off into countryfied tunes. Bingham, of course though, wouldn’t have a problem letting those indie rock aspects into his music. 

For such a short song, Bingham has plenty to say and wastes no time doing it. So many of these early Bingham songs relied on a pretty easy formula. They’re all singer-songwriter alt-countryesque songs with an added jolt of something that to make them really pop out and grab you. Easier said than done, but he and producer Marc Ford were able to consistently fuse the two things together. With “Other Side,” it starts off as a something that just about any alternative country or country singer-songwriter is trying to do. It’s acoustic guitar and some vocals. But then comes Ford’s electric guitars. You can’t beat that mix. 

“Best of Me.” I get it. There’s something genuine, charming and intimate about it. It’s rough. It’s raw. It’s real. But at some point, you have to also acknowledge the unfinished aspects and at least ponder the question on why Bingham didn’t go ahead and give us a studio version. Why was it added onto “For What It’s Worth?” Is it because he didn’t feel comfortable sharing it with others fearing that it’d lose it’s sincerity and personal touch? Was it meant to be consumed only from Bingham directly?

It’s certainly a good song whichever the case actually is, but we mustn’t lose the fact that “Other Side” is a great song as well and has better, more refined qualities. Obviously there will be Bingham hipsters and argue that the most lo-fi and/or oldest Bingham song is really his best and that we just don’t get it. But really, come on.

Winner: Other Side

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

That riff in “Take It Easy Mama” is ridiculously catchy. Ridiculously catchy. Ridiculously. Catchy. And no, we’re not saying Bingham stole anything; we’re just pointing out some of the great songs that have successfully used it in the past. “Take It Easy Mama” was the most crisp, cool, and new song on Mescalito. It could have been found on any record recorded in Brooklyn during the last 15 years and not felt out of place. It’s the most Julian Casablancas Bingham’s ever sounded vocally strangely enough as well. I’m sure it has more to do with the guitar tones than anything he did vocally, but still, the point remains the same.

It’s also one of the few times where I’ll mention that the music aspect of a Bingham song is superior to the lyrics. There’s nothing tragically offensive about the lyrics. Nothing atrociously bad. No heinous songwriting crimes by any means. But, they’re ordinary as can be.

“Rollin’ Highway Blues” on the other hand is one of Bingham’s most heartfelt songs to date with lyrics that are amazingly underrated. You don’t just hear the hurt in Bingham’s voice, you feel it. You get the sense that he’s almost on the verge of really breaking down. As mentioned previously, Roadhouse Sun is really the first time tackles heartbreak and love in song head on. He takes the heartbreak head on and applies some of the familiarities from other songs to complete it. 

Winner: Rollin’ Highway Blues

7. Western Shore
15. As I Do My Dancing

“As I Do My Dancing,” had it been included on Tomorrowland, I’d legitimately say would be not only be considered a top three song on the record by me, but that would be the conscious opinion from the masses and critics. It just for some reason gets the perception as not being so because people have a hard time judging songs that aren’t within the context of something larger than itself.

That’s the only reason “As I Do My Dancing” even feels like an upset. In our last interview, Bingham even mentioned that he regrets not putting it on the record. As I stated then, it doesn’t even feel like it was written or recorded during the Tomorrowland sessions. It felt as though it came from Roadhouse Sun. Or maybe a song Bad Blake had several years ago like “I Don’t Know.”

“Western Shore” isn’t something Mescalito Bingham could have written. It’s just not. Yes. There are a few Mescalitoian lines here and there. But that’s a more big picture Bingham singing. It also represents the giant crescendo within Tomorrowland Bingham…even if it’s only the second song on the record. It has all these lush string arrangements that just build and build. It makes the “Western Shore” feel pretty and somewhat gilded. It’s Gatsby Bingham. 

Winner: As I Do My Dancing

By The Numbers

Per Album

Mescalito: 9
Roadhouse Sun: 1
Junky Star: 3
Tomorrowland: 1
Other: 2

Album Record

Mescalito: 3-6
Roadhouse Sun: 1-0
Junky Star: 2-1
Tomorrowland: 0-1
Other: 2-0

Hippies in Austin and Cowboys in Mexico Sweet Sixteen Match-ups

1. The Weary Kind
5. Junky Star

6. Hard Times
2. Sunrise

1. Hallelujah
5. Other Side

14. Rollin’ Highway Blues
15. As I Do My Dancing


3 responses to “Ryan Bingham Song Tournament: Day VII Hippies in Austin/Cowboys in Mexico Round II

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

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

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

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