Ryan Bingham was born in the small city of Hobbs, New Mexico, hard up against the Texas Panhandle. He grew up in the West Texas oil fields, then spent time as a teenage rodeo cowboy in towns all across the state. Along the way, he absorbed the Cajun culture of western Louisiana, the hardcore hip-hop favored by his Houston friends, and the border songs of the Mexican immigrants. Until he moved to California in 2007, he never lived in any one place for more than two years. It’s this spirit of having done plenty of living early on, that has informed the singer-songwriters world weary and jagged, weather-beaten vocals.
From the beginning of his recording career, with “Mescalito,” Bingham has defied easy classification. As a rising country star, he ranged from Woody Guthrie-style folk songs and Spanish-language balladry to gritty hard rock. It’s all American music; fittingly, he was honored as the Americana Music Association’s 2010 Artist of the Year.
He’s enjoyed thrilling highs and suffered debilitating lows, sometimes all at once. While his career was taking off – he won both an Oscar and a Grammy for “The Weary Kind,” the theme song he wrote for the film “Crazy Heart” – he was coping with the
tragic deaths of his parents.
The losses put Bingham in a dark tunnel, and it took a while to crawl his way out. With the help of his wife, Anna Axster, and some inner soul-searching, Bingham has come back into the light. “American Love Song,” the third studio album from the Axster-Bingham indie label (after 2012’s “Tomorrowland” and 2015’s “Fear and Saturday Night”), takes all of Bingham’s influences – both musical and experiential – and unites them in his best, most fully realized record to date.
The new album finds Bingham honing his creativity on two distinct levels, the personal and the cultural. He co-produced it with Charlie Sexton, the superb Austin guitarist who has played for years in Bob Dylan’s touring band. From the opening track – the spry “Jingle and Go,” which recounts his early years as an itinerant open-mic performer working, like the great Texas bluesmen before him, for tips – to the closer, “Blues Lady,” a tribute to Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Bingham’s own late mother, and all the other strong women this country has produced, the album combines autobiographical reflection with a bittersweet celebration of our collective spirit in the face of enduring difficulties.
In 2019 and 2020 Bingham will be touring in support of his new album, “American Love Song.”