Cory Branan makes Mutt Music! That may sound like a lame insult I’ve just invented, but it’s actually the term he’s been using to describe his music for some time, and it’s what he alluded to in titling his most recent album Mutt. He proudly owns the hybrid, eclectic styles of music it contains, and well he should. He shifts and combines styles seamlessly. It’s brilliant. His musical style was one of the topics of conversation when I interviewed him before his set at the Middle East Downstairs on July 21st.
The first time I ever heard of Cory Branan was in 2010 when the Country Throwdown came to Laconia, NH. Had I been aware of the two and 1/2 albums he’d released prior to that tour–The Hell You Say (2002), 12 Songs (2006) and the Split LP with John Snodgrass (2009)–I might have realized how odd it was to find him on something called the Country Throwdown. Those records aren’t exactly typical Country albums. But he was playing in the tent of Nashville’s famous songwriter’s hangout The Bluebird Café, a stage that celebrated up-and-coming, talented songwriters. He did belong on that stage. He’s a talented and creative songwriter who blazes his own path, independent of genre conventions.
While his music definitely has strong country elements to it, there are also strong blues, soul, rock (of various styles), and other musical elements that can be as easily detected. His set was a real standout, especially a song called “Sour Mash” which I don’t believe he’s ever released, but it was amazing! Now that I think about it, songs about whiskey are another staple of country music, but they’re usually not specific to sour mash, and they definitely don’t rock like this one! Tall, handsome, blond-haired, blue-eyed and charismatic, the man gets down and dirty when he plays, tearing at his pour little acoustic guitar like Jimi Hendrix does his Strat! Hearing someone sing about sour mash with such passion probably had a lot to do with his winning me over, but I’ve been a fan ever since!
I had a lot of questions to ask him in advance of his set at the Middle East Downstairs as part of the July 21st six act show. The 20-minute interview took place upstairs against the backdrop of preparations for a belly dancing extravaganza in the Middle East Restaurant. It made for some funky sound effects! Listen after the summary.
First a clip of Sour Mash that is very similar to the rendition I recall from the the Bluebird Cafe Tent at the Throwdown.
We began by talking about the current tour, the album that he’s currently recording, and when it will be finished. He told me how he ended up on the Country Throwdown tour and why he moved to Nashville.
That led to the most interesting portion of the interview, in which we discussed the kind of music he plays and what he means by “Mutt Music.” He talks about the environments he grew up in, the kinds of music he heard, and how it impacted his work. He’s probably correct when he states that he would have had more of a career had he “kept it between the lines,” chosen one musical style, and stuck to it.
In the next portion of the interview he talked about songwriting, including when he wrote his first song, his technique, and why it is his only “consistent happiness.” He also answered my burning question as to why he there are two very different versions of “Survivor Blues,” on Mutt, and it’s not because he couldn’t decide which version was better, as I suspected. We ended by talking about the variety of dates I’ve seen him play, and the different bands he’s opened for, just alone on stage with his guitar, and what that is like.
A solo acoustic version of Survivor Blues
Later that evening Branan went on stage to play his set and it didn’t disappoint. He played some songs I’d not heard before, presumably from the new record, and he also played many of my favorites. These were clearly crowd favorites too. Folks knew the words and sang along, prompted him to remark with a huge smile at one point, “That felt better than it should!”
My only complaint about his set was that it ended too soon! I’m eagerly awaiting the new album he’s now recording, and the Boston dates that will hopefully be part of the subsequent tour.