The No-Hit Wonder, Cory Branan’s fourth LP, isn’t an autobiography, though it very well could be. Branan has been slugging it out through hundreds of shows year after year as opener and main attraction with some of the best in the music business. He’s been immortalized in a Lucero song, shared stages with Jason Isbell and The Gaslight Anthem, and hosted some pretty amazing regulars on his latest LP including Craig Finn, Caitlin Rose, and Tim Easton. It’s no surprise that Branan is able to rope up some of the finest talent in the business for his LP; his songs are immediately attainable, hook-driven, and powered by the engine of Branan’s sharp eyed lyrics. There’s not much about The No-Hit Wonder not to like, except that it may still not bring Branan that notoriety he so rightly deserves. But then, if somehow he became famous overnight, we wouldn’t have such tight-knit observations as “The No-Hit Wonder,” “Missing You Fierce,” or “All the Rivers in Colorado.”
Branan has punk rock and some shit-kicking country running through his veins. His voice is as recognizable as his hammer-down style of guitar playing. And when he sings songs about whiskey and women, as he often does on The No-Hit Wonder, they sound like the real thing, like a man who understands the inner workings of both. Unlike the rest of the phony Country pop-stars who probably only drink shitty beer or champagne on ice at record release parties, Branan knows his whiskey. The evidence is all over “Sour Mash,” a righteous tribute to what “God can do with water.” In the category of woman, “The Only You” fakes its way to being a love song offering up lines like, “while she sleeps I trace that places where your tattoos used to be” and “when I get lonely / sure she’ll do / but you’re the only you.” If it’s true love Branan is raising a glass to, its the type of true love that’s soaked with a hard and fickle reality; the kind of reality that comes from road-weariness and chasing after a notoriety that’s just out of reach. It’s all of what makes the LP culminate by song two, it’s title-track, “The No-Hit Wonder.”
“The No-Hit Wonder,” has about a dozen good things working in its favor, the first of which is the propellent, wry chorus where everybody gets to, “sing a song for the no-hit wonder / though it isn’t one of his.” Later, Branan uses the under-utilized trick of a coda to build the song back up to barn-burner status. It’s the finest height on The No-Hit Wonder, followed easily by album’s centerpiece, “Missing You Fierce,” one of a few tributes Branan pens for life on the road. But even when Branan puts pen to paper and finger to string, he conjures up something magical and talented, like the could-be throwaway “C’Mon Shadow” and “Daddy Was a Skywriter.” They’ll never be optioned for films, TV, or the next Taylor Swift record, but the type of earnestness and sincerity that Branan brings to the table is enough to buy him leagues of goodwill with his fans and other artists of his caliber. Though it sure would be a lot nicer if Branan got his monetary due with The No-Hit Wonder, there’s a lot to be said for the validity of an artist like Branan in these crooked times. And, hell, who knows—maybe The No-Hit Wonder won’t turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But, even if it does, Branan seems to understand anyway: “boys, it is what it is,” he reminds us on “The No-Hit Wonder.” True words, indeed.