Ryan Bingham knows a thing or two about pain. He learned the emotional aspect early in life, when shuttling between small towns and family members in the hardscrabble ranching communities of West Texas and New Mexico -- and became well-acquainted with the physical facets during his years on the Southwestern rodeo circuit.
That ache is palpable in the grooves of Mescalito, Ryan Bingham's Lost Highway debut, but what's even more plain is the steely strength needed to overcome it -- a tenor that's evident in both the singer-songwriter's preternaturally wizened voice and his remarkably poignant songs, which resonate with roadhouse wisdom and rough-and-ready border-town piquancy.
"I first started playing music when I was about 17 years old and living down on the border of Mexico," he recalls. "My mom had bought me a guitar when I was a kid and I never did play it very much, but I always had it hanging around. There was this guy who lived next door and played mariachi music. I was fascinated, and mostly I'd go over and drink whiskey with him and watch, but then he taught me some chords and he hooked me. I haven't put it down since."
That's evident throughout Mescalito, from the Rolling Stones-flavored blues strutting of "Take It Easy Mama" to the deceptively gentle finger-picking that runs through the wistful "Don't You Wait For Me." Aided by the sympathetic production of Marc Ford -- perhaps best-known for unspooling the sturdy rhythm guitar lines that powered the Black Crowes on their classic '90s albums -- Bingham manages to kick both the heart and the hips into high gear.