Fear and Saturday Night
Axster Bingham Records/Thirty Tigers

The quality that his earliest champions like Joe Ely and Terry Allen praised most about Ryan Bingham from the git-go was his authenticity: you believed every word he sang not just because of the gritty, wearied weight of his voice, but because by and large the things he sang about were things he’d lived through and experienced first hand. And the fact that all of that was coming from a guy still well shy of 30 when his national debut was released back in 2007 only made the gravitas of Mescalito that much more impressive. Eight years, a handful of albums and heaps of accolades later, Bingham’s voice and songs still ring true on his new Fear and Saturday Night; the difference is, these days the experiences he sings about are those of a happily married man in his 30s who’s learned to stop brooding and love the good fortune that he’s found almost in spite of himself. Doubtless some Bingham fans will say he’s gone soft, what with all the songs here about being high on love (“Top Shelf Drug”) and espousing a you-and- me-babe-against-the-world optimism (“Island in the Sky,” “Adventures of You and Me,” “Snow Falls in June”); but as he puts it clearly right from the opening “Nobody Knows My Trouble,” Bingham couldn’t give a damn. “Don’t tell me about my trouble,” he warns after a deeply personal but stunningly succinct summary of harder times past, “’cause nobody knows about my trouble … except for my baby and me.” These days, he continues unapologetically, “I’m living every day like it’s a paradise.” One could still quibble that, apart from the punch-drunk squall of “Top Shelf Drug” and the jaunty Tex-Mex vibe of “Adventures of You and Me,” nothing on Fear and Saturday Night packs quite the vigor and sonic punch of earlier anthems like “Bread and Water” and “Dylan’s Hard Rain.” But if you doubt that the open-hearted sincerity of a song like “Broken Heart Tattoos” comes from a place every bit as authentic as the experiences that shaped “Southside of Heaven” or “The Weary Kind,” well, that’s on you. — RICHARD SKANSE

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