Photos and Writing by Lee Flythe
“Cory Branan’s got an evil streak, and a way with words that’ll bring you to your knees. Oh he can play the wildest shows, and he can sing so sweet. I still sing along.” (from the Lucero song Tears Don’t Matter Much, 2003).
Cory Branan has a sound all his own. His music is country-infused and definitely southern, but not limited by the typical restraints of those categories. There are elements of punk and soul, metal and gospel, all wrapped up with a Memphis twang and a cutting wit. Cory’s lyrics, in a way, are the main attraction. He has a way of cutting to the bone, hitting a nerve, and exposing the truths most of us are unwilling to see in ourselves. His imagery is decidedly dark, whiskey soaked and cloaked in smoke, exploring the seedier recesses of our minds and our existence.
Cory is a one-man-band, but he transcends the typical singer-songwriter stereotype. On his albums, which are recorded with a full band, his songs are locked in, perfected, and rife with hooks and unexpected jabs that hit in all the right places. Live, and unconstrained by accompanying musicians, his songs take on a more elastic quality, bending and warping, stretching out with emphasis, making for a unique experience that reaches beyond a typical well-honed performance by a well-practiced artist. There is a strong element of experimentation, a playfulness, and a little bit of devil-may-care let’s-see-where-this-ends-up abandon, which remains anchored by Cory’s exceptional prowess on the guitar, and always comes back around to deliver the goods. One of the highlights of the show was a spaced out version of “The Freefall” that completely redefined the song. It’s layers of looped guitars building upon each other to deliver an electrified sonic experience that will never be repeated again in quite the same way.
He performed multiple songs off his new album When I Go I Ghost, opening with “Angels in the Details,” walking us through his pandemic struggles with depression in ” Room 101,’ and diving deep into a narcotic underworld with “Pocket of God.” The song “When in Rome, When in Memphis” (where he is joined by the likes of Jason Isbell and Brian Fallon on the recording) is destined to be his new anthem, and “O Charlene” adds to his extensive list of ballads about women whose name ends in “ene,” joining its predecessors “Imogene” and “Jolene,” and even prompting the performance of an unrecorded song called “Kathleen” and some accompanying dad jokes about “leaning in.”
He also performed some crowd favorites, taking requests for classics like “Prettiest Waitress in Memphis” and “Tall Green Grass,” which included some hilarious personal anecdotes about how the song was inspired by Jeff Buckley’s reclusive tendencies. At the close of the show, Cory delivered a touching rendition of the late John Prine’s song “Mexican Home” as an encore.
Cory’s shows feel very personal, and those of us in Charlotte are lucky that The Evening Muse is one of his preferred venues. It’s the right size to pack a crowd, but still retain a connection to the audience. There’s lots of banter and audience participation, funny asides, random anecdotes, and the feeling that you’re having an authentic experience with this performer, not just passively watching his show.
Cory was joined by opener Ryan Lockhart, whose solo performance was a strong and complementary pairing. His songs were equally dark, bending toward a debaucherous lifestyle, and delivered with a southern twang. Ryan is local to the Charlotte, NC region and is a member of the metal band Funeral Chic. It seems as though his solo work may be as-of-yet unreleased, but he’s gonna be an artist to pay attention to for anyone who’s already a fan of Cory Branan.