Cory Branan
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Cory Branan

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The best kept secret in music


From death metal to Leonard Cohen: a Memphis story

There's a new breed of singer-songwriter -- Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and now Cory Branan -- less Young, Loud and Snotty than Young, Verbose and Possibly in Need of an Editor. This is a good thing, particularly in the case of Branan, a twenty-seven-year-old Mississippi native whose debut album, The Hell You Say, is an alternately rollicking and downbeat collection of lyric-driven, heart-on-sleeve twang rock. It doesn't hold back; in fact, it doesn't seem capable of holding back.
Branan started out playing in a Black Sabbath cover band, because, he says, "We had a great drummer, and I was a terrible guitarist, and that's really the formula of Black Sabbath." Various death-metal bands (Black Like Me! Roadkill!) followed, until Branan moved up to Memphis, bartending at the legendary Peabody Hotel. A friend turned him on to John Prine, which led him to other songwriters such as Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. "I realized that lyrics are the only thing I know how to do decently," he says. "Everything else -- that is, the music -- is decoration." Branan soon became a fixture on the Memphis scene.

One fan proposed to his girlfriend by leaving Branan's song "Crush" on her answering machine. "Which is essentially a cheesy thing to do," Branan says. "I told him that, and I also pointed out that that song's about obsession. I mean, there's a part where I sing, 'I'm a sixteen-year-old Hitler'! He was like, 'I know. Fuck it. It's pretty.'"

The album's raucous opener, "Miss Ferguson," is based on a clandestine affair Branan had with his boss at the restaurant where he worked. "Miss Ferguson is actually her name, and my name's in the chorus," Branan says with a chuckle. "I was like, 'Oh, hell, it would be funny if I wrote a song and put our names in it.'"

He pauses, then adds, "Of course, in retrospect, I should've probably changed her name, since we're not together now."


Posted Sep 13, 2002 12:00 AM

- Rolling Stone

What Paul Westerberg did for sensitive Minnesotans, Cory Branan does for sensitive Southern boys on The Hell You Say. In lyrics wry, sweet, sad and utterly true (imagine if Westerberg’s Tim consisted solely of tracks like "Kiss Me on the Bus" and "Waitress in the Sky"), Branan’s characters populate skating rinks and dive bars, work dead-end jobs and chase after dead-end girls. Working in the oft-mined territory of drinking and relationships, Branan keeps things fresh through his sincerity and perspective. He skips from the nostalgic "Skateland South" to the darkly possessive "Love Song 8" without missing a beat, equally at home with lighthearted ditties about girls and more serious meditations on relationships. Starting out with the unbearably catchy Elvis Costello-esque "Miss Ferguson," and then all the way through to the plaintive longing of "Closer," Branan manages a balancing act of insight tempered with humor few songwriters can manage.

Branan’s greatest feat is keeping the record from becoming an overwrought teen pop journal or nostalgia trip while he takes the listener through all the torturous phases of singleness, from the treachery of junior-high dances to the later, futile search for love amidst the scars. The sacred melds into the profane as crushes take on Biblical proportions, and the most important issue in life is whether or not that special girl knows how to spell his name. He references diners, arcade games, hitchhiking, soap operas and fake tattoos, throwing out fresh similes to spruce up the old singer-songwriter clichés. The music, as flexible as the lyrics, maintains its melodicism through forays into guitar pop, honky-tonk and solo acoustic strumming.

By his own admission, Branan isn’t a master musician, but he gets help from plenty of Memphis’ finest, including members of labelmates Lucero and The Pawtuckets on "Wayward and Down," a rootsy ballad that would make Willie Nelson proud.

Branan’s persona is often that of an emotionally stunted adolescent—but a more complex, funny and interesting one than most. His songs are fresh and brilliant, and anyone who’s ever been young and lovelorn will understand.
- Paste Magazine


2006 12 songs
2003 There Is No Dana (vinyl 45)
2002 The Hell You Say


Feeling a bit camera shy


Honest, sometimes a little dark, and riddled with self-deprecating humor – traits that lend themselves well to his songs. Songs that, like Cory, are original and unpredictable. “I never play a song the same way twice,” says Cory. “It’s the only way I’ve found for me to keep the music honest and immediate and, more importantly, to keep myself amused.”

Surrounded early on by musicians including his father, drummer Dallas Branan, Cory grew up in Southaven, Mississippi honing a love of music. A young Cory played Death Metal before moving on to a Black Sabbath cover band, but it wasn’t until someone handed him a John Prine album that things began to fall into place. Discovering songs with intelligence, humor and edge inspired Cory to strike out with his own unique songwriting style. Aside from “recreational self-destruction and the lamentations of the women,” Cory’s influences change daily, but could typically include “Henry Miller, Cole Porter, Mark Twain, my little brother, Dark Lord Satan, Strong Bad, the girl from last Thursday …”

Perhaps finding inspiration in the world around him, no matter where he may be, is his strongest asset and the easiest explanation for his reputation as a prolific songwriter. The truth in his lyrics married to the picking of his guitar has earned Cory much acclaim. The Memphis chapter of NARAS presented Cory with the Phillips award for Newcomer of the Year and a nomination for premier songwriter – all before he’d even released an album.

With boyish good looks, buckets of Southern charm and crackling wry humor Cory Branan is poised for greatness. But it’s his abundance of talent as a songwriter that made him a staple in the lauded Memphis music scene and brought him national recognition with the release of his debut album, The Hell You Say. A full-page feature in Rolling Stone’s Hot issue, a year’s-top-ten honor in Billboard magazine and an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman represent just a sample of the attention this breakthrough record garnered.

Expect to hear even more high praise for Cory with the upcoming release of his greatly anticipated second album, 12 songs, to be released in March 2006.