Cory Branan does such a great job of portraying those mornings where you feel like you may have been hit by a semi the night before and just not known it that you're actually convinced that you were indeed hit by a truck the night before. The man from Mississippi - Southaven, to be exact - puts us in the frame of mind to wallow in it some, to roll over and out of bed only to find that the thorns and the prickers are still jabbing into our hide. In some perverse way, they actually feel good, especially pulling them out. It's the muscle soreness and the bleary eyes that remind us of an evening spent provoking the demons and having them respond to the pokes and the goading. It feels good to be able to stitch the night back together, after having blacked out from the last blow that landed on the punch drunk mug. He makes it feel nice to notice the swelling and understand that we're all lined with very personal regrets and sorrows, none of which could ever be fully comprehended by anyone else, most of which are serious only to one. Branan sings, "I've been down in it," early on during this session, and you wonder if he actually means to include all of us in this, as in, "We've been down in it," referring to the sheer volume of stuff that we've been through, seen, felt and withstood. His whipped voice carries with it so much salt and still so much sugar, as if it's strangely better off for having been tried and tested, raked over the gravel. He's a sadder, but somewhat better man after all has been said and done. A song like "Survivor Blues," is an emblem of the rockiness that follows folks around like a stink sometimes. There are too many things that need surviving, so getting through any of them requires something of a toast, or a tip of the cap. In this song, like most everyone knows, there's no end to the things that must be survived. He's of the belief that there's always more around the corner and he seems to typically be right. This means that there are a good number of toasts and it means that they're all extremely short, ready to be dashed, cut short in their middles. He sings, "What didn't kill you could make you wish you'd died," and that's quite the sobering thought. Everything in a Branan song - even those bits that should be considered the bright spots - seem to be pointing us toward only the potential for partly sunny skies, nothing much more favorable than that. The beaten up parts of his characters are their most endearing parts. They are the keepers, those that identify them, for instance, when he sings, "You call that a scar/A bruise, a tear/Pillow marks and souvenirs." When pillow marks are scar-like souvenirs, there's not all that much wrong with them and it's always impressive how quickly the darkest, purply bruises start turning to camouflaged green color, on their way to a dim yellow, back to flesh color. You can and should only take them seriously during the short interim where they're sore to the touch - a day or two, depending on the depth of the contusion. We can't help but love the way the pains felt in Branan songs really sing, low and lovely, as jelly jars of watermelon wine are being knocked back.