Another wonderful night with Cory Branan, this time at City Vineyard, City Winery’s younger, smaller, and intimate sibling on Pier 26 on the Hudson River.
And another wonderful opener. Darrin Bradbury is a Jersey boy, who just got a major label record deal (produced by Kenneth Pattengale of the Milk Carton Kids). Cory told us later that he was staying with Bradbury’s parents (Bradbury is now based in Nashville) during this East coast leg of his tour with them driving to and from gigs from northern New Jersey. Bradbury is engaging, funny, fun, and folky and country-ish. His lyrics can be funny but not as dark as Cory as can be. He started with a song he wrote called “The Wedding Song,” so that people do not ask him to play weddings. The song was basically “love sucks.” Titles or song lyrics that followed – “Hell’s More or Less the Same,” “Strange Bird,” “Has anyone seen my old Kentucky home?” “Newark” (performed with apologies to Delaware), “I was born in a busted world,” and “Field notes from a college town.” The lights in the room went on and off so it was totally dark at one point, which was a wtf? moment for both Bradbury and us. “Double XY Top Left” is a new song with a line about flying cars falling from the sky because the sun was in the driver’s eyes. The audience started laughing hard, which made Bradbury crack up. We have all thought about flying cars but how many of us have thought about the cars crashing into each other and hitting pedestrians? “This Too Shall Pass” had the lyric, “You’ve got a heart that’s heavy like a suitcase at the airport that you wish you could leave behind.”
Bradbury’s parents were in the audience and he said he got being a jackass from his mother, who had graduated from clown college 35 years ago and had worked for Barnum & Bailey.
Another song was about the upper Midwest. He complained about the Great Lakes and how not all lakes can be great. Some are doing the best they can and those are the ones you can relate to. The song “Ethan” was about his brother who was a junkie and Bradbury said, “I don’t know how we go back to funny after that.” But we did and he told us, “If you close your eyes, you can go back in time,” and did “Dawn is a Daisy” and “Life is Hard,” the ballad of Jack Kerouac, Lenny Bruce, and Daffy Duck.
Cory, as he is wont to do, started with some new songs, which meant not on an album yet, so some I recognized from the last time I saw him and others were new to me. I have described Cory’s on-stage presence so many times before that I do not have any more adjectives for him. He is funny and dark. Like Ben Nichols sings, “Cory Branan’s got an evil streak; And a way with words that’ll bring you to your knees; Oh, he can play the wildest shows and he can sing so sweet.” Cory’s guitar playing is masterful and fast and he plucks the strings like he wants to break them off and then he will sweetly slide his fingers down the neck. One of the new songs, “One Happy New Year,” is about a couple who had 3-1/2 minutes of marital bliss.
Cory said when asked how he writes songs now that he is happy (he has two happy kids and a happy healthy wife), he says he writes them the same. Out of sheer terror that the happiness will end. A divorce song had the line, “I spend the rest of my life dying to find that look I lost.”
He then got to the familiar songs like “Tall Green Grass,” where he strained for a note and said, “Damn, I smoke too much!” and “Prettiest Waitress in Memphis.”
He told us that at almost 45yo (He is having a birthday party in Memphis that I am going to miss even though I will be in Memphis that weekend for Lucero’s Christmas party. Cory’s party is Sunday night when I will be flying out.) and has bought a van from Amanda Shires, who is on the bus now – she’s not going back to van life. He took out the seats and bought a mattress and a subzero sleeping bag. Since he is not young, this is not so good. But he found out that if you get a Planet Fitness membership for $18, you can park in their lot (no one checks the lots during the night) and shower in the morning and get a $3 massage.
Another new song with the line, “When in Rome, when in Memphis, when in Asbury Park,” which sounds like it may be called “Incarcerated Heart,” had a very Bruce Springsteen sound to it.
Because of the small stage and you have to walk through the audience to get to and from it, there was no formal encore. Bradbury joined him for John Prine’s “That’s the Way the World Goes Round” and one of them told the story of how someone kept asking Prine to sing the “Happy Enchilada” song and Prine did not know what they were talking about since he does not have a happy enchilada song and then they sang the last verse and chorus substituting the words “happy enchilada” where that audience member was hearing that mondegreen. Then they sang “One Hit Wonder” together as a ballad.
After the show I told Bradbury how much I had enjoyed his set and would be following him from now on. And I mentioned to Cory that he would not remember me, and then he said he did remember my face, but the last time I saw him I mentioned that he should play City Winery and he said he did not like their spaces because they were too big and we both now agreed that City Vineyard was perfect for him.
Someone beat me to putting up the setlist on setlist.fm (I did make a few corrections because I know my notes were accurate).
By Carene Lydia Lopez