Cory Branan is too much of a punk rocker to be called a country singer and too Memphis for the Nashville scene.
“I have always never really been able to stick to one thing,” he said.
However, the nonformula has worked to Branan's advantage. On his latest and best album, "Adios," the singer-songwriter careens between genres and styles on tracks that celebrate life and lament mortality.
On Friday, he'll perform at Hartley/Vey Theatres inside the Manship Theatre at 100 Lafayette St. Doors open at 7 p.m. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. and features an opening performance from The Weeping Willows.
Raised in northern Mississippi near Memphis, Tennessee, Branan’s work combines the storytelling expertise usually expected of Southern songwriters with a consuming energy.
Released last year, "Adios" has been called a “death record.” However depressing that sounds, the songs range from touching tributes to family members (“The Vow,” about his father) to a high-energy, yet highly literary, exploration of American gun culture.
Earlier this month, Branan spoke to The Advocate the day after undergoing gallbladder surgery. Even under the influence of pain meds, the songwriter proved to be one of a kind, managing to work in a reference to modernist poet T.S. Eliot while discussing his craft and latest album.
“Another Nightmare in America,” which is about gun violence, is almost always timely, unfortunately. The lyrics conflict in a way with the fast, punk instrumentation.
That was on purpose. That was just a sonic test. People will just bop along and forget the words for a while. Just like we kind of bop along to the news feed, and we forget that stuff.
The lyrics are dense, packed with metaphors and allusions. A lyric that grabbed me was “We hollowed out Bibles to hide our golden guns.” The image is fraught with symbolism.
You obviously grew up in the church. You know about the golden calves. I just assume we have this common set of images to draw from, but I realize more and more that we don’t. I grew up in the church, and that was a reference to the us having (guns) as a golden calf.
It’s weird. That’s what T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is about — that we no longer have a common language we are speaking when we are talking about history.
These songs on “Adios” have catchy hooks, but there’s more to discover on repeat listenings.
That’s the difficult balance — giving people something to go back to, but also not making it so dense that you can’t catch a lot of it the first time. It’s tricky. I try to put the medicine in the verses and the sugar in the chorus. I definitely try that with every album.
I like albums that I can find something new, and my life changes and I hear the album again, and “Oh, there’s more in here that I didn’t understand before.” Like Tom Waits talks about making a Swiss army knife of a song: You don’t know how people are going to use them, so you try to make them a lot of different things.
“Don’t Go” is a good example of that. I wrote it off as an overly sentimental song, but then I was invested in the story of the couple’s marriage.
That one is tricky. It’s about my grandma. I just kind of changed a little bit of it. That was heartfelt. It’s tricky for me, the songs about my father and grandmother. That’s not really how I write a lot of the time — that close. I like to recast things.
I don’t want to be insular, “Oh, look at what happened to me.” It needs to be universal. But the one about my old man (“The Vow”), I didn’t think I was going to put that on record. I thought it was too specific. I thought it was too much of the stoic Southern father who didn’t say a lot. But it turns out that’s not Southern. That’s father-son everywhere.
I’m not doing it for myself. I enjoy writing and playing — that’s for myself. But putting out albums, I don’t think everything I say is a work of art. I like to be useful.
CORY BRANAN/THE WEEPING WILLOWS
WHEN: Friday. Doors open at 7 p.m. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Hartley/Vey Theatre inside the Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge
COST: $15-$35 at brownpapertickets.com