Even by Americana’s loosely scrawled boundaries, Cory Branan has never been content to play by any rules and his latest album ADIOS is certainly no exception to the precedent he’s previously set. The acoustic-fueled twang that helped define his 2014 LP The No-Hit Wonder is still present, but it’s also been heavily augmented on ADIOS by a lock-step three-piece rock band approach. Branan masterfully handles all of the lead vocal and guitar duties, with James Haggerty on bass and former Deer Tick member Robbie Crowell rounding out the aural atmospherics on drums, percussion, keys and horns.
The trio creates a sound that is cohesive in approach and unpredictable in expectation as heartland rock mingles with new wave agitations and swampy blues brushes shoulders with swinging waltzes. Branan also invited a couple musical friends to help shape ADIOS, including fellow punk-meets-roots rocker Dave Hause, punk icon Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, and fiddle-playing powerhouse Amanda Shires.
Although ADIOS has been described as being “Cory Branan’s death record,” the album is actually spilling over with life, energy and musical adventure. Sure, the album has songs that deal with his father’s death (“The Vow”), metaphorical hospital imagery (“Visiting Hours”) and the politics of a racist killer cop (“Another Nightmare in America”), but each black cloud rarely hangs around for too long.
It’s a tone he sets from the jump, opening the album with a fatalistic lyric—”I was told this road goes straight to hell”—but pairing it with a chiming guitar hook and a quaintly Buddy Holly-esque shuffle. It’s a juxtaposition that plays out like a theme throughout ADIOS. Branan seems to relish the alchemic approach, as he fuses romantic crooning with slacker excuses (“Imogene”), punk with Petty (“Yeah, So What”), eulogy with admonition (“The Vow”) and smoky barroom jazz with chaotic guitar-and organ flourishes (“Cold Blue Moonlight”).
“I Only Know,” the album’s lead track, starts on the road to hell, but Branan ends the song’s final verse by singing: “If our past is all we get to be/my whole life would’ve been the death of me/While I find myself alive/I might as well see where it gets me.” If the spirit and enthusiasm found on ADIOS is any indication, Branan is getting along just fine.