Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses

Never let it be said that Ryan Bingham is one to pander. Or one to strike while the iron is hot.

In the spring of 2010, Bingham famously won an Oscar for his song "The Weary Kind" from the movie Crazy Heart. As a result, the former vagabond troubadour became an international music star. There couldn't be a better platform to rush a new album out, one filled with his brand of good-time country tunes. But Bingham didn't travel that path.

Instead, Bingham took some time and went to work with his Crazy Heart collaborator, Fort Worth native T Bone Burnett, and crafted Junky Star, his sparsest collection yet. While the acoustic-driven album boasts the professional sheen that Burnett is known for, it's a far cry from the country-tinged Southern-rock numbers that built Bingham's fan-base in the first place.

Like the minister who takes advantage of larger-than-normal crowds on Easter or Christmas to deliver a more personal message, Bingham is using the platform to really show off what's inside of him, regardless of what the listeners expect. Judging by the commercial and critical success of Junky Star, Bingham clearly grasps the difference between pandering and preaching.

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Kelly Dearmore