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Review: Ryan Culwell leans into his Texas Panhandle roots

January 25, 2022 GMT
This cover image released by Missing Piece Records shows "Run Like a Bull" by Ryan Culwell. (Missing Piece Records via AP)
This cover image released by Missing Piece Records shows "Run Like a Bull" by Ryan Culwell. (Missing Piece Records via AP)
This cover image released by Missing Piece Records shows "Run Like a Bull" by Ryan Culwell. (Missing Piece Records via AP)
This cover image released by Missing Piece Records shows "Run Like a Bull" by Ryan Culwell. (Missing Piece Records via AP)
This cover image released by Missing Piece Records shows "Run Like a Bull" by Ryan Culwell. (Missing Piece Records via AP)

Ryan Culwell, “Run Like a Bull” (Missing Piece Records)

Ryan Culwell is as Texan as an El Camino with a rusty tailgate. His Panhandle roots infuse everything he does.

That’s as true as ever on Culwell’s new album, “Run Like a Bull,” the Americana singer-songwriter’s third LP. It’s more like his first album, “Flatlands” than his second “The Last American,” though the latter had its virtues. Here Culwell builds on a growing body of great music in all the best ways — and the feel of home rises out of these songs like dust on a long, flat highway.

Sounding like you’re from somewhere isn’t as easy as it might seem. Doing it authentically is what sets the great ones apart. You can’t hear Loretta Lynn or even Tyler Childers without being transported to the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Otis Redding’s full-throated passion couldn’t come from anywhere but Georgia.

Still, Culwell sings less directly about the Texas landscape here than he has in the past. These songs are about heartache, regret and his own growth. The connection to home is more of an undercurrent than an over-the-top theme.

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But much like the Panhandle itself, Culwell’s music can be achingly bleak. That’s especially true on the gorgeous “What You Waiting For” and “It Won’t Stop.” He isn’t wearing his roots on his sleeve so much as being who he is, an authentic and original voice.

“Late at night I lay in bed, and run the roads inside my head, trying to return to where I’m from,” he sings on “Colorado Blues.” “Lying on my crooked back, I look back on my crooked path, winding my way back now just seems dumb.”

The irony lies in what the music itself conveys. Culwell doesn’t really need to wind his way back — because the truth is he never quite leaves.