“I guess if I was no good at singin’ and guitar playin’ I’d still be ridin’ bulls”.
So speaks Ryan Bingham at the American Embassy as part of US Ambassador Kevin O’Malley’s Creative Minds Series. The gig was broadcast live on RTE’s Arena, with Sean Rocks supplying the questions around the songs and life of this Academy, Golden Globe and Grammy Award winner. His song, Weary Kind, attracted kudos for the movie soundtrack to ‘Crazy Heart’ starring the redoubtable Jeff Bridges. The way Bingham tells it, writing the song released him from writing about his personal life but contains details of the musicians lot as he understands it. In the context of the movie the song is haunting and evocative – seeing him perform it live strips the Hollywood glitter and showcases the Americana genre. Without condescension he describes country music as something emanating from Nashvillle focusing on profit margins, suggesting Americana has the musical soul missing from its more popular cousin.
With special guest Mundy forming part of his backing band, Bingham kicked off his set with the autobiographical Nobody Knows My Trouble followed by Tell My Mother I Miss Her So, which despite the title of the latter was in fact an upbeat song. Listening to his raspy voice and direct lyrics, it was easy to visualize a lone guitarist singing for himself or for a few ranch hands in the setting sun after a hard day on the range – or was that just imagination?
The set was interrupted at that point by Sean Rocks of RTE who quizzed Bingham on his life and times. Although this was informative and probably works for radio, in the context of a live gig, it was perhaps a little intrusive. However it gave the audience an insight into the very difficult background of the artist and the sharp contrast with the hype surrounding his Academy Award; “The Academy was a blast man – just surreal and lasting for months!”. He loved his early life as a rodeo rider but figured being a musician was where his heart was.
After the radio break Binghams rendition of Weary Kind showed why the song has touched the hearts of many and introduced his roots music to new audiences. It was hard not to see Jeff Bridges in the movie; the journeyman musician, taking the gigs wherever they may be, sometimes appreciated, more often ignored, but occasionally hitting the musicians dream when a real connection is made with the audience.
The concert finished with Bingham’s Bread and Water followed by a Steve Earle’s Mundy-assisted Galway Girl, and finally The Best of Me. Throughout, Bingham was ably assisted by an acoustic backing band with the aforementioned Mundy on mandolin.
On the night, we took away an impression of a musicians musician who can connect with his audience and deliver a set worth hearing. Oh yeah, and Ryan’s a real nice guy too, proving that to sing the blues you don’t have to be moody and hangdog all the time. Ryan Bingham’s new album ‘Fear and Saturday Night’ is available now.
Kudos once again to the American Ambassador for facilitating this intimate session and series.