Critically acclaimed songwriter Cory Branan has the stuff of a Nashville country music mega-star: stuff like a twinkle in his eye and a Southern drawl, boyish good looks made rugged by a three-day beard, and a chesty baritone — equally suited for hold-me-close dance numbers as well as arena-ready anthems.
Nevertheless, Branan says: “My sensibilities don’t go with what country radio is these days. There’s a great tradition of writers that have written for country radio, but everyone was always trying to cross over in country music. Pop was better!”
After spending several years in Nashville, Branan is back in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.
Branan’s pop sensibilities are showcased on his latest release, Adios, out now on stalwart “insurgent country” record label Bloodshot Records. Adios, described by Branan as a “loser’s survival kit,” is a collection of songs that twist and turn through many styles: from country music to power pop to Springsteen-esque anthems like “Blacksburg,” complete with a saxophone solo that would make Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band proud from beyond the grave.
“When I write the songs they just sort of sound a way in my head,” Branan says. “I usually let them dictate where they want to go.”
Adios is also notable for against-genre guest appearances from artists such as Laura Jane Grace of punk band Against Me as well as James Crowell on drums (formerly of cow-punk band Deertick) and Amanda Shires on fiddle and vocals — known for her work with another alt-country connoisseur’s favorite songwriter, Jason Isbell.
Branan explains: “I can always hear whose voice will sound good on things. I try not to have guests just to have guests. I’m just lucky enough to have been doing this for so long I know some really, really talented people.”
Cory Branan makes a rare West Coast tour stop at 8 pm Sunday, June 11, at Hi Fi Music Hall Lounge; $10 advance, $12 door, 21-plus. — Will Kennedy