Cory Branan is hard to pigeonhole, which is probably why he’s labored in obscurity for so long. He’s a singer-songwriter, but his mix of pathos, humor, and musical variety — the closest parallel probably being Branan’s hero John Prine — isn’t exactly built for radio.
I was really into Branan’s debut album, The Hell You Say, way back in 2002, which now seems like a lifetime ago. I thought he had disappeared until he showed back up in 2006 with 12 Songs. Then I thought he had disappeared again, until this year (six years later!) he released his first album on Bloodshot Records, called Mutt.
The good news (though probably not for his career) is that Branan hasn’t exactly crafted a bid for mainstream success. As the title indicates, the style remains a stew of alt country, rock, folk, and swing. The lyrics are still finely observed and slightly askew, equal parts funny and poignant. There are enough odd choices and left turns here to prevent this from going down smoothly with the Starbucks crowd, but then, I’m not sure who the audience is supposed to be. Me, I guess! Cause I dig it.
Here’s the first song on the record, “The Corner,” which is the most conventionally alt-country, highly reminiscent of Jay Farrar and Uncle Tupelo: