We were never very smart, we were sticking to our guns
We knew we added up babe, we knew we were the ones
Forever barely starts, then suddenly someone’s
Saying all is said and done

     – Cory Branan, “The Only You”


Photo by Chip Chockley
Photo by Chip Chockley

I sort of skimmed over it in the preview, but the origin of my working relationship and friendship with Cory Branan began when I heard him perform at the 2001 Premier Player awards, Memphis’ Grammys. He was accepting an award for Best Newcomer, and he hadn’t even put out a record yet. Cory got up there in a suit and played “Tame,” and I was, quite simply, stunned. I’d been listening to singer-songwriters – the musicians most known for wordcraft – for awhile at that point, and that song not only made me feel like I’d heard the next big thing in American music, but also made me wonder why I even try to write anything. Over the next fifteen years, I did whatever I could to help other word nerds feel that bad about themselves.

Which brought us to today. Working with Cory is the entire reason I got involved with the Memphis music scene, so it only seemed appropriate to snag him for a show while he’s back in the area to mix his fifth record. The songs on that album were clearly top-of-mind, because they comprised a good portion of the night’s day’s set. And that put me right back where I started. When Cory lived in Memphis, I heard everything in his repertoire. Repeatedly. (Happily.) I got phone calls and emails with scraps of lyrics before songs were even born. I knew every word, and they became like old friends I felt fondness for but could never again see with new eyes. So today, hearing so many new-to-me songs at the same time, it was almost like being back in the Pyramid watching that kid make his debut.

Photo by Chip Chockley
Photo by Chip Chockley

Because damn. He’s just so good. It’s like verbal origami, the way Cory grabs words, phrases, metaphors, and aphorisms and then folds them in on themselves until they take a totally different shape and meaning. And over the last fifteen years, his musicianship has built on itself, from the Sabbath roots up. That’s not really my department, honestly (I know when music sucks, but I’m not much for explaining when it doesn’t), but I know that the curiosity and perspicacity that comes through in his writing finds its soulmate in his composing.

We had a full house today, with a good number of guests who have watched Cory’s career from the beginning as well as pre-teens who made requests and sang along. Folk All Y’all may have brought them all here, but Cory is the reason Folk All Y’all even exists. Sometimes it feels like a lifetime has passed since that award show, but then I look up and realize, hell, we’re just getting started.



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