Driving percussion and pedal steel kick off this self titled album by Ryan Barrington Cox (The If You Wannas). According to the Bandcamp page for Cox’s previous independent effort, Shoot Me Gorgeous (you should’ve killed me when you had the chance), “His solo material draws from influences like Townes Van Zandt, Donovan, Dando, Tweedy, Elliott Smith, Bukowski, Lou Reed, Leadbelly and Patsy Cline.”
But nothing on Cox’s late 2011 release sounds derivative of these songwriters. To an extent, it’s a sleeper — there’s a certain immediacy about the album, but the subtlety of both the songwriting and instrumentation takes time to fully reveal itself. But it’s also thoughtful, intricate and consistent throughout, with more than a few moment of genius.
There’s a keen romance to “Ruined Ending,” the story of a love gone south. But the doleful hum of the harmonica and the crack in Cox’s voice betrays a wound unhealed. “You told me once and I told myself twice to never to blow on tumbling dice. I was glad. I was glad for it,” he sings on this standout track.
And on the California country-meets-slowcore track, “Kathleen,” it’s the low warm assertions of the cello (Trevor Stoia), the back up vocals from Cox’s wife Emily Keebler (Shod My Feet) and the poignant ending (“I’ve been moving away from things that define me”) that leave an impression. (Keebler returns with a fierce backup vocal on “Love,” a steely, aching, waltz-noir with the line, “The thunder keeps crashing but don’t Johnny Cash out on me.”)
“Lilac Song” is a sweet, bouncing lullaby of a song. There’s a bounce, too, to “I Got The Blues You Got The Raynes” but that song — like most on the album — is underscored by a palpable darkness. This a cynic’s love song, a bittersweet send up of the tender emotion. But it rolls and bobs on a tide of softly-thumping indie-rock.
The country-tinge runs like a thread through this album, thought that’s not its aesthetic as much as its rhythm. It sways and ambles for the first half, and then picks up pace with the kick drum punch and electric guitar of “VA Anyway,” which edges up against the folk rock of Brewer and Shipley or a less-jangle Byrds.
“Early Or Late” jumps off the retro psychedelic rock platform, but it doesn’t feel like a throwback. A thick baseline and a syncopated hook take the song in a different direction than its opening notes suggest, and the tongue-twisting world play of the lyrics makes it both fun and poignant (which is kind of Cox’s thing).
“Woke Up In The Classifieds” is another standout (though there’s really no weak track on the album), fusing the best of all the elements from the rest of the album — hooky writing, marching band snare, that heavy bass and a country swagger filtered through quirky rock. “So I keep Townes on my radio, that’s what’s keeping myself sane. And I can’t keep a cup of coffee hot, cold caffeine runs through my veins,” Cox sings.
Want to hear these songs live? Cox performs his solo material on Friday, April 13, 6 p.m. at the French Broad Brewery and on Saturday, April 14, 10 p.m. at Emerald Lounge with Birthday Boy and The Critters.
Here, Cox performs on Xpress feature Busk Break: