Cory Branan – When I Go I Ghost (2022)
Cory Branan’s songs have a way of sticking with you. Branan is a restless craftsman who seems to view songwriting as something of a science. Whether in the studio or on the stage, he isn’t afraid to pick his work apart in order to draw out new themes or alter the song’s points of emotional resonance. On When I Go I Ghost, Branan pushes that principle to the limit, transforming some of his loneliest songs to date into propulsive rock and roll that is indebted, as the opening track “When in Rome, When in Memphis” observes, to both Asbury Park and Branan’s hometown of Memphis.
The song is a joyous blast of distorted rock, buttressed by fellow punk poet troubadours Jason Isbell and Brian Fallon. The song sets the stage for the rest of the record, introducing emotional themes of loss, leaving, and regret — specifically, being the person who initiates all of those things.
“When I Leave Here” is the most extreme example of Branan’s studio magic. The song is one of Branan’s toughest yet, replete with ’80s-style drums and hair-metal guitar pyrotechnics. Where “When in Rome” is a wistful recollection of a relationship ended too soon, “When I Leave Here” is a threat, reveling in the destruction the narrator will cause. Branan follows up with the suckerpunch “Pocket of God,” embracing the villain role as a crime boss who must exact revenge against a protege. Songs that appear as mournful ballads in Branan’s live show become microcosmic worlds in the studio, but in any form the words will last long after the final note rings out.
Branan also takes on the role of the fighters, those pushing against the circumstances of fate. More customary fare for him, songs like “One Happy New Year” and “Come On If You Wanna Come” strain against defeat, exhorting the listener to keep trucking no matter what. “Waterfront,” in which Branan is joined by Garrison Starr, offers a poignant mixture of hope and realism.
Like his characters’ lives, When I Go I Ghost captures a specific moment in time — after all, Branan is always in motion. What you hear on the album will likely be different than the interpretation Branan offers from one show to the next, reminding us that while these moments in time are a part of our growth, they also grow in our memories and the meanings we create for ourselves.