Cory Branan writes the songs of the everyman.

Branan’s latest release “Adios,” lyrically is no different. It is a collection of the guys that don’t get the glory. The guys that don’t get the girl. The guys that don’t have it all figured out.

“A lot of my songs are the other people,” Branan said. “The record is a like a loser’s survival kit.”


He will play The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls on Nov. 7.

“Adios” is the fifth record from the Mississippi-native singer/songwriter. The plight and causes of the underdog and the disparate remain at the root of Branan’s work.

Take, for example, “You Got Through,” a song that shows the dogged determination that goes into perseverance. Branan likens it to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” if the running didn’t produce the desired effect.

“What would ‘Born to Run’ be if those people had already tried it when they were younger, and it didn’t work?” Branan said. “What do you do? Your idealism is blasted away. How do you still find something? You don’t always find it.”

Sonically “Adios” is a bit of a departure for those that discovered Branan after his more country-leaning 2014-release “No Hit Wonder.”

“With me though, and anybody that has followed along, maybe, that last record was kind of straight. I’m not beholden to a genre. It is country only because I am from Mississippi. It is country because it comes out of my mouth, but I’m not singing about trucks, you know,” he said. “As far as genre, I never really bothered with that. It sort of gels for me, I’m very open. You have Tom Waits, who is a personal hero. From a songwriters standpoint, and from a recording artist standpoint, (Waits) just pulls from every bit of the American musical vernacular. He pulls from whatever he wants. People hear it and just hear Tom Waits because that is an unmistakable voice. It is the glue or hot asphalt that holds it all together. I don’t have that distinctive voice. It does what it does.

“Everybody is trying to survive. It becomes a niche thing. You are trying to appeal to as many people, but there is no way to get to everyone. It is not some grand crusade. It is what music interests me, and my relative obscurity has let me do what I want. I have a label that lets me do what I want and, so, I do what I want.”

“Adios” genre hops effortlessly in part to the talent of the musicians that worked on it. The sound is tight without a waft of space left untouched.

“Here is the secret of that, Robbie Crowell, who was with Deer Tick and now is with Midlake, he is the glue of the record. He played all the drums, all the keys, and all the horns. He is one of those guys. He can do one well; he does all of it extremely well. I knew with him on drums, James Haggerty on bass, and you are all three in the same room laying it down at the same time, I knew that Robbie cared about the arrangements, so he is in his head playing the drums leaving the air for what he wants to do with the keys and horns. I arrange the songs ahead of time and send them demos. The structure is already there. I get good musicians, and then I listen to them. If it is better, which it is often, it will be the direction that part goes.”

Two songs make up the emotional core of “Adios: “Another Nightmare in America” and “The Vow.” The two songs, while broaching the subject of death, have distinctly different approaches. The former is a song about the slew of police shootings of unarmed African-American men, and the latter is a requiem for Branan’s late father.

“Some people think ‘Another Nightmare in America’ is an anti-cop song and it is not. It is an anti-corrupt, anti-murdering cop song. I tried to make that song absurdly catchy. You are tempted to bop along and not listen to the words as we are tempted to bop along and not see the news. I started it with the opening line without music. You can not not hear (it). It is a balancing act.”

The song is told from the prejudiced view of the cop. It required trying to comprehend the inner workings of a bigoted mind, an experience that Branan described as gross and unpleasant.

“For me, that was the only angle that I could find to do it. It is the last thing that anybody needs is another white boy championing the black struggle. It was at first written from more the cop’s point of view, but I realized that it was not conducive to a certain song. I found the way was to extend (the cop) to embody a small-minded, racist. Some of the lines (in the song) are poetic, and you can’t put poetry in a bigot’s mouth. It kind of makes the character unbelievable.”

An unconventional approach to an all-too-familiar subject in these unsettling times where some want nothing but distraction from the entertainers.

“As far as politics go, I’ve never been very political in my music. I’ve not liked political music unless it is very lived in. Billy Brag is excellent because his politics feel very lived and breathed. For me and most people that I know, if you haven’t had a moral crisis in the past year in one direction or the other, I just don’t know whether to trust you or not,” Branan laughs.

“They say stick to music. Well, stick to plumbing. Everybody has got a profession. Some people view entertainment as pure distraction, and that is fine, and there is a place for it. I’m not taking up the soapbox too much because I’m grossly underqualified to speak on a lot of subjects. To me this is not right and left anymore, it is post-politics. It is a flat-out assault on truth. It has worked its way into the writing. The most political song on the record was written before the new regime was in. Unfortunately, cops have been shooting unarmed black men for a time. I can not wait for that song not to be timely. I would like it to be dated.”

The flip side to “Another Nightmare in America” is “The Vow,” a song that almost didn’t make the album.

“I wrote that after my dad died. I wasn’t going to put it on a record. I thought it was too specific to be useful for anybody. I added it to some shows to see if anybody would respond. I got a really strong response. The stoic father that doesn’t say a lot is not just Southern. It turns out it is a universal thing.”


‘I'd say "Well I just thought..."
And he'd cut me off
Saying 'That's what you get for thinking.'
I remember thinking that's probably not the best lesson for kids
And although that was just something he said
When I see what I get with my thinking
I get to thinking there may have been some kinda genius
In the effortless way, he just did.’

-- “The Vow”


The moment where a parent repeats something that was told to them without forethought. It is filler disguised as advice. It is in that specific moment that Brenan touched on something universal in which others could easily relate.

“It is like the Robert Frost poem, ‘Mending Walls.' It is where the guy is fixing the wall, and the neighbors say, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Robert Frost realizes that the guy has never thought about why that is. You are just repeating something without thinking about it. I will find myself occasionally saying these things. It takes on an all-purpose, you can put it in a conversation and make it be what you want. We are getting like that with language. I try with everything that I do to be specific.”

It is that need to be specific that captures those little moments that make the characters in Branan’s songs so uniquely universally relatable.