A Long-Awaited Farewell
One might not expect Cory Branan’s self-described “death record,” Adios, to open on such a hopeful note. Despite lines like, “I’ve been told this road goes straight to hell,” instrumentally, the first track is a blinding ray of sunshine coming in at just under two minutes. Then again, expectations are something to check at the door when it comes to Branan. The Mississippi-born singer-songwriter didn’t get where he is by adhering to any particular style. When the straight-arrow country ballad, “Blacksburg,” yields an infectious saxophone solo, all bets are off. It’s an unexpected and refreshing inclusion that’s enough to deliver chills. Stylistically capricious, lyrically sharp-witted and abruptly heart-wrenching, Branan’s fifth studio album leaves very little to be desired.
Aptly titled, Adios is a fourteen-track farewell to fathers, lovers, former selves and more lovers. The album is full of vibrant, intimate vignettes that often raise more questions than they answer. “The last asshole that rented this room set the alarm for the crack of noon, and you doused that thing with your flat champagne,” Branan recalls in “You Got Through” — a bittersweet ode to a former flame, bristling with nostalgia, sensuality and self-deprecating humor. “I knew better than to cross that line, but I’ll try anything seven or eight times,” he croons. It’s not the only track that sees Branan admitting his faults. In “Imogene” he addresses a woman directly, confessing, “You could say that I’m a no-account ne’er-do-well, roustabout, detestable, itinerant, execrable degenerate — fair enough.”
“The Vow” lovingly examines the life of Branan’s late father, whose character Branan reveals through touching and deeply personal anecdotes. He recalls conversations and everyday observations in what is arguably the most traditionally country song on the album. “Cold Blue Moonlight” is a contender for this title as well, but only before the gnashing guitar riffs kick in halfway through. Another sonic outlier is “Another Nightmare in America” — a scathing critique of police brutality. The uptempo, pop-punk melody is vaguely reminiscent of R.E.M’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It.”
Adios manages to tackle well-worn themes without becoming trite and it’s Branan’s keen self-awareness and lyrical inventiveness that makes this possible. The album runs the gamut of emotions while never feeling overdone or indulgent. For a tracklist with death at its conceptual core, there’s a surprising amount of hope hiding in plain sight. This is mirrored in Brannan’s life, with the birth of his son following closely on the heels of his father’s passing. In this way, many of the songs can be seen as both endings and precursors for what’s to come. After all, a phoenix has to rise from something.