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Artist You Should Know: Meet Alt-Country Troubadour Cory Branan

Joshua Black Wilkins

Cory Branan is unlikely to make it to the Grand Ole Opry. It's not my assessment -- he said as much on Tuesday night when he took the stage at the Opry's New York City outpost. In addition to a two-story restaurant and main stage, the City Opry also hosts a modest stage meant for singer-songwriters like Branan. In fact, a look at the lineup for the City Opry Studio is in fact a collection of East Nashville's A-listers and their associates. Branan, cheerfully chewing on ice, listed some of his associates: Memphis, Tennessee punk-turned-country-turned-soul rockers Lucero, pop punk heavy hitter Dave Hause, and Against Me! lead singer Laura Jane Grace. They'll probably never set foot on the Opry stage either.

But you never know. That seems to be the best way to understand Branan's career. Between songs, he chatted a bit about his journey: pinch hitting in metal and hardcore punk bands in and around Memphis, Branan wrote his first song at 25, fell in with Lucero, Amanda Shires' old band the Thrift Store Cowboys, and Jason Isbell. Branan's been riding that momentum ever since.

Branan's discography is impressive: in the same way that Branan is physically incapable of standing still on stage, his music resists easy classification. He's also signed to Chicago alt-country powerhouse label Bloodshot Records. His song "The Corner" has been covered by Brit folk-punk legend Frank Turner. On his most recent album, Adios, Branan swings from the new-wave of the Elvis Costello-style song "Visiting Hours" to the rave-up "I Only Know" and the bluesy paean to his hometown, "Walls, MS." His song "Another Nightmare in America" is a searing indictment of police brutality.

It is also Cory Branan's death record. While Branan's most popular earlier songs chronicle the misadventures of an avid ne'er-do-well, Branan's settled down, gotten married, and has two young children. Adios confronts another step of reaching maturity: losing a parent. Branan affectionately takes aim at his father's favorite saying on "The Vow" --  "that's what you get for thinking" -- by remarking that it's "probably not the best lesson for kids." Yet Branan also admires the "genius in the effortless way he just 'did'."

Seeing Branan live is an experience in itself. Branan owns the stage, drolly commenting on his own accompaniment, launching into shaggy dog stories about his touring adventures, and infusing his country music with punk and metal performance techniques. Branan doesn't like to get bored and will often change up the tempo, add some forceful bellowing, or pop in some pyrotechnic fills to an otherwise straightforward country song. On Tuesday, Branan described himself as an entertainer and that's just what his shows are: Branan's so obviously having a great time that you can't help but enjoy yourself, too.

Check Cory Branan's tour schedule here -- he'll be joining Amanda Shires, Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers, and Tim Barry on various dates through December.

Cory Branan Discography

  • 2002: The Hell You Say (Madjack Records)
  • 2006: 12 Songs (Madjack Records)
  • 2012: Mutt (Bloodshot Records)
  • 2014: The No-Hit Wonder (Bloodshot Records)
  • 2017: "Adios" (Bloodshot Records)

EPs

  • 2009: Jon Snodgrass / Cory Branan (Suburban Home)

Singles

  • 2014: Under the Cherry Moon: "I Would Die 4 U" by Lydia Loveless / "Under The Cherry Moon" by Cory Branan (Bloodshot Records)

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Artist You Should Know: Meet Alt-Country Troubadour Cory Branan