“Sing a song for the no-hit wonder, though it isn’t one of his,” sings Memphis singer-songwriter Cory Branan on the title track from his latest album. It’s been nearly a decade since his beefcake spread in Rolling Stone, with nothing even close to a hit in the ensuing years. Like so many other singer-songwriters kicking around the Americana margins, he subsists on a diet of glowing reviews and the applause of an avid cult audience, so the subject of that song might as well be Branan himself. “It is what it is,” he sings in mock resignation. Then he sings that line again. And again. And again. It’s an empty cliché to begin with, but Branan stomps any meaning right out of those words.
That song is clever but not especially insightful — which sadly describes much of the album itself. Thankfully missing are the genre experiments that derailed his 2012 Bloodshot debut, Mutt. Even the gypsy waltz “All I Got and Gone” and back-alley rag “C’mon Shadow” sound a lot more comfortable and easygoing, which suits a musical mutt like Branan. But his lyrics occasionally mistake smart-aleckiness for wit: On “The Only You,” he baits an ex with a mention of a younger lover (“she looks like you at 23″), then admits, “While she sleeps, I trace the places where your tattoos used to be.” He’s too busy trying to impress you to let these would-be hits truly break your heart.