On Mescalito, 25-year-old Ryan Bingham has the right folks in his corner: Sometime Lost Highway labelmate Joe Ely provides the CD equivalent of a jacket blurb, and Terry Allen (like Ely, a Lubbock legend) sits in on guitar and even trades vocals with Bingham on the rollicking shit-kicker "Ghost of Travelin' Jones." But neither Ely nor Allen was present while Bingham was being shuffled from town to town along the Rio Grande as a kid, nor later while he eked out a living on the lower rungs of the rodeo circuit. And it's the gleanings from all that hard traveling that form the guts of Mescalito.
Right from the lonesome-train first track, "Southside of Heaven," Bingham's road-weary lyrics and steel-wool singing bring to mind Steve Earle. (Another song, a juke-joint stomper called "Dollar a Day," owes a tip of the cap to Earle's ode to marijuana farming, "Copperhead Road.") The subject matter, Bingham's scorched-throat delivery and (ex-Black Crowes guitarist) Marc Ford's production occasionally conspire to overreach; the seemingly endless closing cut, "For What It's Worth," features tympani rolls and cymbal crashes, not to mention that most dubious contrivance, the "bonus track." But minor missteps vanish amid the strum and slide of "Bread and Water" and "Don't Wait for Me," the '70s-rock-inspired "Take It Easy Mama," the vaguely John Mellencamp-esque "Hard Times" and, especially, the lonesome, lovely twosome of "Long Way From Georgia" and "Ever Wonder Why."
There's more than enough proof here that Ryan Bingham is the genuine article — and that the Texas territory he stakes out is, more than anything, his own.