Junky Star (Lost Highway)

There's a timeless quality to Ryan Bingham's best songs that drops them in the middle of the 1940s, 1970s, or 2000s. It's one of the reasons he won an Oscar this year for "The Weary Kind," his plaintive theme from Crazy Heart. He's also a sharp songwriter. On his third album — on which he shares billing with his band, the Dead Horses — Bingham lines up a statement of purpose. It's there in Junky Star's first two songs — "The Poet" and "The Wandering" — and it winds its way through stories of hope and despair, with emphasis on the despair. Those opening tracks set the tone: "The Poet" is an acoustic-strummed folk tale; "The Wandering" burns with Bingham's alt-country drawl, harmonica, and the Dead Horses kicking at the dusty trail. They eventually lead to "Depression," a modern-day Dust Bowl ballad about holding on to love during bad times. "I'd rather lay down in a pine box than to sell my heart to a fucking wasteland," Bingham seethes. It's the redemption he looks for throughout Junky Star. And it's a sentiment that spans generations. — Michael Gallucci

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