Music & Nightlife

Too country for rock, too left field for country, Cory Branan may be the best songwriter you haven’t heard

Cory Branan will play the Evening Muse.
Cory Branan will play the Evening Muse. Perry Bean

Discussing songwriting with Cory Branan is like talking to an MFA graduate about their craft.

“Sometime it’s easy and lovely and sometimes I’ve got to wrestle. You can be inspired, but (it’s not there) until you can get it to another person and have them feel what you were feeling when you were writing without any trace you were there. It’s about removing the fact that you’re writing,” says Branan driving from his home in Nashville to a show in Louisville.

“I am really juggling some tones on this next record,” he says of the upcoming album he’s been recording in his native Mississippi. “I’ve got some untrustworthy narrators. I’ve got tones that are tricky. A funny death song. There’s a lot of death on the record. I thought I was making this really heavy record, but the ones that were lighter are really poignant.”

Allergies kept Branan from finishing the vocals on his follow-up to 2014’s acclaimed “No Hit Wonder” – an album rich in poignancy, humor and tail-shaking foot tappers. But he describes the new one as less classifiable than its countrified predecessor.

He plays Evening Muse Friday, but in a perfect world he’d be headlining the same spots as friend and contemporary Jason Isbell (who guested on “No Hit Wonder”).

“If I kept it straighter I’d have a better career,” he says, adding that he wanted to make a ’70s-sounding album this time out. “There’s so many people that would come to the average Americana show and would walk out of my show. I try to make very inclusive music, but I’ve found I make very inclusive that’s just not for everyone. With the next record, I just sort of go where the song wants to go and I’m not beholden to any genre.”

He worked at Tweed Recording outside Oxford, where his buddy has collected a bevy of rare, vintage equipment. One song has analog synthesizer on it.

“I’m a child of the ’80s, When people want to hear authentic roots music, they don’t want to hear an analog synthesizer,” he says of his contrary approach to “country.” “They want to know what they’re getting. That’s not to be dismissive. I want to know what I’m getting when I buy an ice cream. I don’t want a question mark on the ice cream label.”

Branan may not be willing to change to court country radio, but it’s obvious at shows and in conversation why his audience continues to grow. He may work hard on his songs, but he’s also a naturally funny, charming storyteller whether he’s writing about his father’s death or Instagramming quotes from his precociously entertaining 2-year-old, Clem.

Branan didn’t grow up like Clem, whose mom reads him 40 books a day.

“I wasn’t read to as a child. It wasn’t until later on I went down the rabbit hole. I had one teacher – a lot of people have that story. Evelyn Simms was my creative writing teacher. I was screwing around and didn’t care about anything. I was writing poetry and she said, ‘This shows promise,’” he recalls.

“She turned me on to Neruda and some of the Spanish poets and Henry Miller. No teacher has been able to give Henry Miller to a high school student. I wouldn’t be doing this today if it wasn’t for Evelyn. She was a magical lady.”

Songwriting came later.

“Tom Waits, John Prince, Leonard Cohen – I got into them all at one time and it ripped the top of my head off. It’s conversational. It’s poetic and deceptively happy,” he says. “Then it sticks the knife in.”

Cory Branan

When: 8 p.m. Friday.

Where: Evening Muse, 3227 N. Davidson St.

Tickets: $10-$12.

Details: 704-376-3737; www.eveningmuse.com.

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