Ryan Bingham's sixth studio album, American Love Song finds the South Texas bred singer/songwriter 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. American Love Song was recorded at Arlyn Studios and Public Hi-Fi in Austin with additional recording at Matter Music in Los Angeles.
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. There are songs for his wife Anna Axster. "Pontiac" brings a Stones-y crunch to the tale of their meeting and the wild early years they spent on the road together. "Lover Girl," which features a sweet steel guitar, reveals a more tender side of their relationship: "The scars upon my heart won't hide, but now I found your sparklin' eyes."
Musically, "Situation Station" is built on a comfortable lope and a few bright chords. But that's deceiving. The song is the first of several on the album that take a hard line on the state of the nation, with a scathing verse about a leader "ridin' on the back of the poor man, selling them lies." He's speaking his mind, and right now he has a lot to say. "Blue," for instance, is a beautiful storm cloud of a song about Bingham's own battle with depression after the deaths of his parents. But it's also, he says, a commentary on the persistent taboo about seeking mental health care in this country.
"Wolves" deals with the painful memories of his youth and those inevitable confrontations with the next school bully. But it's also a response to Bingham's emotions when the March for Our Lives students, in the wake of the Parkland school shooting, had to contend with men and women questioning their integrity on social media. Built on a hypnotic, bluesy electric guitar riff, "Hot House" imagines an unjustly imprisoned young man whose life has been effectively cut short. "What Would I've Become" is a twang anthem of sorts, one that asks a universal question. What if the singer had stayed put in one small town? If he hadn't taken a chance on life?
Bingham's growing concerns about where we're at as a people come to a head on "America," the album's somber, instantly memorable signature song. Is there still an American dream, he asks, his voice rising to a poignant pitch. These 15 new songs from one of American music's most distinct voices answer that simple question with a resounding "Yes!"