This was going to be a music filled weekend. Before the Orion Music + More Festival on Saturday and Sunday, I was determined to get to the Mercury Lounge on Friday night to see Cory Branan. The last two times he had played solo in NYC I had tickets but missed the shows. I did see him at the Revival Tour in March but I was looking forward to a full set of his incredibly witty and true lyrics and some of the best guitar playing you’ll ever see.
Opening was Audra Mae, who physically immediately reminded me of my voice teacher Melissa Cross and Bonnie Raitt. When Audra Mae opened her mouth she even sounded a bit like Melissa and Raitt. Audra Mae can sing pretty and she can sing powerfully. In reading about her I found out that she’s Judy Garland’s grand-niece so she comes by this naturally. Her style is bluesy and very free – she is exactly the singer who I want to be. Right off she told us that if you’re in jail don’t call someone good because they won’t bail you out but will let you stay there in order to teach you a lesson. I liked this woman. Since she was touring without her band (just her and acoustic guitar) she played her older songs. There was a song about snake venom that is about addiction and another called “The Happiest Lamb.” She sang one with lyrics about an Italian love song where the melody sounded like an old Italian love song. She also covered “Tonight You Belong to Me.” I liked Audra Mae’s lyrics and the music and loved her voice.
The Mercury Lounge was mostly empty when Audra Rae started but the sound was great. By the time Cory Branan took the stage the place had filled up a bit but it wasn’t packed. First thing I noticed was that Cory has gotten a haircut. He said he’s learned two things – (1) that you should never get your hair cut at a place that spells cuts with a k or a z and (2) when you write a love song you should include a small insult. When he tuned his guitar he told us that Jim Dickinson said that tuning is a decadent European tradition. Cory thanked the sound engineer a few times, which was nice. He had a whiskey on stage and someone gave him a whiskey sour, which he had never had before, and he wasn’t very happy with it so that became a running joke. He also complained about driving around our city for seven hours. There had been thunderstorms earlier in the day so driving in Manhattan is never pleasant in that kind of rain.
Cory plays with dynamics all the time – vocally and with his acoustic. He can play incredibly fast so that you can’t even see his fingers but then he’ll pick out a melody that could make you swoon. His lyrics will also make you swoon. They’re smart. They’re funny. They’re witty. They’re sad. They’re perfect.
Cory has a new cd so he was playing a lot of those songs – some in the audience already knew all the words. He started with a song that hasn’t been recorded yet – that was because the mic wasn’t working right off so he announced he’d do that song but then the mic was working but he’d promised us, so we got to hear it.
Cory covered Richard Thompson, which was perfect. They are both musicians’ musicians who should be everyone’s musician.
He also covered Belle & Sebastian because he likes them and plays the song because apparently Belle & Sebastian fans don’t like country boys ruining their songs.
Cory took a break in his set to have a friend come up and play. I didn’t catch Sam’s last name but he fit in perfectly with that raspy, punk, country sound of Lucero, Cory, Chuck Ragan and all their friends. His lyrics didn’t thrill me like Cory’s do, though.
One of the songs on the new cd appears twice because Cory liked the song so much. He called it his “Born to Run” but worse because the people had nowhere to run. And we got a history lesson with “The Wreck of the Sultana.”
There was no encore. He grabbed his whiskey and told us all to go out and explore NYC like he was going to do.
By Carene Lydia Lopez