A guy like Ryan Bingham comes along every now and then — the type of songwriter that listeners immediately appreciate, hearing their own stories in the lyrics. Guys learn their songs on guitar to impress the ladies, while their girlfriends secretly imagine the real thing.
But it's unlikely we'll find the 29-year-old Bingham pulling a Dave Matthews sell-out on us. He's got all the real-thing credentials he needs, including a prior career riding bulls at the rodeo.
After recording two indie albums, Bingham's focus changed when Lost Highway Records came calling in 2006. His band, the Dead Horses, adds all the pedal steel a proper Texas songwriter could ever yearn for.
Bingham's status went big time in 2010 when his song "The Weary Kind," cowritten with T Bone Burnett as the theme for Crazy Heart, won the Oscar for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards.
Crazy Heart took Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, and every whiskey-swilling Texas songwriter that ever lived and shaped them into one character. It makes sense that Bingham was there — with his gravelly growl and bitter honesty, he's an authentic heir to the Austin tradition.
"Wash my hands in the rain/I've spent my time with the whiskey/I'll never give up on change/Or give a fuck if you will ever miss me," Bingham sings on Roadhouse Sun's "Country Roads." Bingham's blend of humility and swagger keeps him real; he's the kind of guy who posts home videos of a badass billiards shot by songwriter Joe Ely or his moonshine-drunk buddy busting on a skateboard on his website. But it's his lyrics that define him. Mescalito ends with a hidden solo track, recorded with a train whistle and crickets chirping in the background.
"If you could only see the best in me/I wouldn't have to pick the guitar or write you a song/But you can only be what you can see/And I guess the heart don't always come with the soul," sings Bingham.
With an Oscar in hand and the national press knocking, it's hard to say if this'll be Bingham's one and only visit to Charleston. What's certain is that everyone at his gig will get a healthy swig of rough-knuckled sincerity, served with a rolling Texas backbeat.