In alt-country circles, singer-songwriter Cory Branan is as respected as they come — even outside the city limits of Nashville. Like most budding Southern musicians, the Mississippi native made his way to Tennessee and, eventually, carved out a place for himself in the broad country music scene. But in his younger years, he was playing an entirely different tune. “I played guitar in a band that played a lot of Black Sabbath,” Branan says. “When I was a teenager I played in any band that needed a guitarist. I went directly out of a black metal band into a straight country unit called Southbound. I’d be up there playing Waylon on my metal guitar for the day drunks at a place on Memphis’ old strip club row called Bad Bob’s Vapors.”
Within a few years, though, he found his voice, both literally and otherwise. “In my 20s, I discovered John Prine around the time I realized I wouldn’t die or maim anyone by singing.” Over the course of four albums and 13 years, Branan has earned the admiration of songwriters, critics and fans who love his poetic lyrics and memorable melodies. Even though the praise from his peers is important and appreciated, Branan’s target demographic is more the everyman than the fellow artist. He offers, “I don’t think becoming a songwriter’s songwriter is ever anyone’s goal. I try to make inclusive music; I’m happiest when the die-hard fan and the bouncer that just got stuck working my show both like the songs.”
By most accounts, Branan’s latest album, 2014’s The No-Hit Wonder, hits that mark. Between this record and the last, Branan got married and had a couple of kids, which makes success all the more critical and touring all the more challenging. As he embarks on a month-long acoustic tour in support of the release, with Tim Barry and Jenny Owen Youngs in tow, Branan offers, “I can’t imagine the traveling father/husband/artist comes naturally to anyone. I’m trying to become one of the few to pull it off. It’s obviously difficult, but I plan to get better and better until I grow the Branan family band, and then . . . problem solved, right? For anyone attempting this particular combination, I cannot stress enough: you’ll need to marry up. I mean, someone that’s like four or five times your strength and grace.”
Cory Branan, Tim Barry and Jenny Owen Youngs perform on March 21 at the Garage in Ventura.