Hot on the heels of Gary Clark Jr. kicking off a three-night stand at ACL Live in downtown Austin on Monday, singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham rolled into One World Theatre on the western edge of town Tuesday evening to begin a two-night stretch. Like Clark, Bingham has a highly anticipated new album due out early next year, and they're both using these gigs in part to give some of their new material a test-drive.
Bingham's Austin ties are more tangential than native son Clark, but the New Mexico-born troubadour has deep roots in Texas, and he spent some formative years in our city as a developing songwriter. Much of Tuesday's two-hour performance was a condensed, rambling autobiography woven between songs both familiar — "Hard Times," "All Choked Up Again," "Southside of Heaven" — and fresh from "American Love Song," due out in February.
One World, which has around 300 seats, is much smaller than the couple-thousand-capacity venues Bingham usually plays, resulting in a very intimate experience for those who quickly snapped up tickets for the two shows when they went on sale months ago. The Austin dates are part of a short solo acoustic tour that wraps up with dates in San Antonio, Dallas and Houston later this week.
Highlights among the new songs included "Lover Girl," written for his wife of nearly 10 years; "Nothing Holds Me Down," a down-and-dirty bluesy rocker; and "Wolves," which Bingham said he wrote for students who have spoken out against gun violence in schools "to let them know I've got their back."
One other parallel with Clark: Both artists have songs on their new records that are squarely sociopolitical and likely will get a lot of attention when they're released. Clark kept his incendiary "This Land" under wraps on Monday night, but Bingham played his deeply moving tune "America" in the encore (along with "The Weary Kind," his Oscar-winning song from the 2009 film "Crazy Heart"). The simple but emotional lyrics to "America" include a plea for compassion toward immigrants, with a reference to the Statue of Liberty's symbolism: "Let our lady light her torch, out in the harbor of New York, and let her light make us as one."