In an alternate dimension, singer-songwriter Cory Branan could have legitimate country hits.
On his new album, “The No-Hit Wonder,” songs like “You Make Me” chug along with memorable lines and hummable hooks. “The Only You” describes moving on in the shadow of an old flame as well as any song on the subject; and “All I Got and Gone” can literally stop you in your tracks. But Nashville’s days of making Merle Haggard and Steve Earle stars are long gone. Hence “The No-Hit Wonder.”
“It’s just a song for all the people that I see on the road that are out there doing this without changing it for any commercial idea,” says Branan, calling from Texas. “It’s treading water. Really thin living. It’s for a lot of my friends and for me, too.”
Branan makes no bones about his music not fitting into Nashville’s definition of mainstream country, although he’s not opposed to a hit.
“I would like my kids to go to Montessori, maybe college. My music is separate from that,” says the father of two. “My music is personal, and I have no thoughts on the commerce of it. I hope people like it and come to the show. I’m not trying to write a song on my record that somebody will cut. I’m not opposed to doing that, but nobody would want the songs that I write. They’re very idiosyncratic, just not radio-friendly. It’s just the way it is.... I knew what I was getting into. I know my choices are to the detriment of my wallet.”
Branan, who opened for Gaslight Anthem at the Fillmore in March, returns to the Milestone Club Friday as the headliner. It’s the kind of venue that reflects modern outlaw country and an anti-establishment attitude.
Branan grew up in Mississippi rebelling against his surroundings in punk and metal bands.
“I went as far away from it as I could in every direction,” he says. “In Mississippi, you got whatever you could get – Minor Threat, Fugazi, Iron Maiden, Eazy-E, NWA. I never stopped liking country music, but I didn’t play it at all,” instead taking “back alleys and twisty roads” to the music of the South.
But country and punk aren’t so different.
“Clash fans like Johnny Cash,” he says. “In its purest form, punk and country are (similar). They’re trying to say something with the least amount of bull----. Roots music and punk is an urban extension of folk music.”
Branan may not be a household name – even in his adopted home of Nashville – but “The No-Hit Wonder” is gaining ground with critics and fans of heady, detailed storytelling.
Says Jason Isbell, the award-winning songwriter who guests on Branan’s album: “This is the kind of record that makes you hit pause every so often to process what the crazy bastard just said.”