Two years ago, country singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham was playing to modest crowds at small venues like Tremont Music Hall's Casbah and the Evening Muse, which he played as recently as October 2009. While ripping slide work and a road-weary voice well beyond his 29 years garnered a devoted fan base, it wasn't until the release of the Jeff Bridges film "Crazy Heart" in late 2009 that Bingham and his band Dead Horses began attracting a sizable following worthy of their grizzled country tunes.
"That movie kind of opened up our music for a lot of people that hadn't heard us before. Every gig we've played (recently) has been sold out or close to sold out," says Bingham, who picked up an Academy Award for his "Crazy Heart" song "The Weary Kind" alongside revered Americana producer T-Bone Burnett (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Elvis Costello).
Bingham, who'd never written a track based on someone else's script or character before, drew on his own experiences meeting weathered lifers and living in a van on the road.
"I guess I could relate to a guy like that. I've run into those characters on the road.... These guys that have been doing it their whole lives and (have seen) the effects the highway life can have you."
"Crazy Heart" has resulted in new opportunities for Bingham, one of which is the former bull rider's inclusion on the all-star Country Throwdown Tour, an all-day festival that sets up stakes Thursday at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. His half-hour main-stage set is early in the day (3:25 p.m.), but offers Bingham a chance to play for a large mainstream country audience.
"Crazy Heart" also sparked a kinship with Burnett, one of the genre's most sought-after elder statesmen. The pair recently finished recording Bingham's next album, "Junky Star," which he hopes to release in July.
"He has so much experience and has recorded so many records," he says of Burnett. "I think the vibe that he brings... You have access to his knowledge. He's an encyclopedia of music for one thing and then you go into the studio and he creates this whole vibe and lets you relax, open yourself up and be able to create this music that you might not be able to do if you weren't in such a relaxed situation."
His "Crazy" experience is likely to color the new album, but not in the starstruck fast-rise-to-fame way you might think. It's more about how the experience pushed him to be a better songwriter.
"Working with T-Bone and ('Crazy Heart' music supervisor Stephen) Bruton (who died of cancer in May 2009) brings the best out in you," he adds. "I definitely worked a little harder on these songs as far as really looking at them and what I was saying in the songs and making sure they were exactly what I wanted."