All too often, contemporary performers who wave the Americana banner squeeze the juice from the music they venerate, presenting dry, academic variations on rootsy styles as if fearful that having fun with them might appear disrespectful. Fortunately, Mississippi-bred singer-songwriter Cory Branan knows better. On his most recent CD, 2006's 12 Songs, he cuts loose throughout raucous raveups such as "The Prettiest Waitress in Memphis" and "Hell-bent and Heart-first," not to mention the rollicking "Muhammad Ali," which finds him declaring, "It ain't braggin' if it's true/Said Muhammad Ali/And me." That's not to suggest he's only interested in providing soundtracks for beer-guzzling: The disc features several tender airs, including "Love Song #11 (Secretly Enamoured)" and the plaintive "Sweet Janine." But even during his simplest and most sensitive numbers, he keeps his performances loose, allowing his emotions to flow through unimpeded by musicological self-consciousness. Branan, who will share these stages with Jon Snodgrass, pays tribute to tradition without being hamstrung by it.
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