Cory Branan often refers to his latest album, “Adios,” as a “loser’s survival guide.”
The album’s April release began a new chapter in his musical journey, but the album itself is about endings rather than fresh starts. Those endings include his father’s death (“The Vow”) and lost love (“Imogene”).
“Once the veneer of life wears off and the stitching starts to show, what do you do with the leftover pieces?” Branan asked. “It’s about trying to hang on to hope without being naïve.”
He doesn’t adhere to standard genre barriers on “Adios,” meandering through Nashville Americana (“Chameleon Moon”) and country (“Blacksburg”) and into punk (“Another Nightmare in America”), swamp rock (“Walls, MS”), new wave (“Visiting Hours”) and more. Branan attributes his lack of genre loyalty to growing up in and around Memphis’ diverse and bustling music scene, which is ripe with rock, blues and soul.
I don’t care how they’re dressed up. I tend to lean more to whatever the song wants to wear.
“I don’t care how they’re dressed up,” Branan said. “I tend to lean more to whatever the song wants to wear.”
“Adios” is Branan’s third album on Bloodshot Records and his first since “The No-Hit Wonder” in 2014. He says he’s always taking notes for new material and has a stack of unreleased songs at home, but it’s becoming more difficult to find time to go into isolation to write now that he’s a father. But then he quoted John Prine, saying “I’d rather have the hot dog than the song,” referring to cherishing the simple pleasures in life, his kids, over having free time to write.
“I go long periods without writing songs,” he said. “They just kind of distill. I try to take notes and stay observant and then all of the sudden, four or five will come out.”
One of the more seasoned songs on “Adios” is “The Vow.” Branan said he wrote the song six years ago, nearly a year after his father’s death. When he noticed a theme developing among the songs that would appear on “Adios,” it became apparent that “The Vow” couldn’t be excluded.
“I don’t think album,” Branan said, “but when I notice certain songs beginning to attach themselves to one another, then I’ll take that group; I’ll write and fill in the gaps.”
Perhaps the most intriguing of the 14 songs on “Adios” is “Nightmare in America.” The song touches on racism and police brutality and is written from the perspective of a corrupt and murderous cop. Branan says the song wasn’t inspired by any one event, but rather the culture of police brutality in the United States that is easier to document now due to smartphones and other tech. The song starts off quickly with heavy instrumentals and grungy lyrics (“You uppity little ghost / don’t you even know you’re dead / we police the past / your future’s in your head,”) which, according to Branan, was by design.
“I knew when writing the song that I wanted to make the lyrics sonically ignorable and super catchy to the point where you’d want to bop along and not listen to the lyrics, similar to how people go along with their day and don’t confront their issues head-on.”
Matt Wickstrom: @wickstromwrites