Cory Branan

12 Songs ( Madjack)

On his second CD, Mississippi native Cory Branan has knifed his name into the alt-country canon. The closest analog here in sound and quality is Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker, and the 31-year-old Branan shares Adams' tendency to nestle introspective ballads against full-throttle rockers. The themes of 12 Songs are also inherited ones--girls, booze and cars (and the moments when the three combine to offer a rare glimpse of heaven). What elevates Branan above his No Depression peers is his winking charisma and unshowy eloquence. You can't help but fall for a guy who writes this well, and his rich lyrics make the barn-burning hollers ("Girl Named Go," "Hell-Bent and Heart-First") feel as complex as the love songs. They also make his love songs (especially the desert-island-pick "Tall Green Grass") nothing short of heavenly.

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