Walk around throwing punches everywhere and you’ll earn yourself an almighty ass whooping. Keep your hands in your pockets all day, though, and you’ll start to feel like you’ve already whooped your own. It’s a paradox that Ryan Culwell finds himself wrestling with frequently on his extraordinary new album, Run Like A Bull. Recorded with longtime collaborator Neilson Hubbard (Mary Gauthier, Kim Richey), the collection is raw and magnetic, cutting close to the bone as it searches for a middle ground between release and restraint, recklessness and responsibility. Culwell faces down his own worst instincts here, grappling with weighty, existential notions the way Flannery O’Connor might, conjuring up images of alternating beauty and brutality set against a distinctly American backdrop. “We all laugh when a young calf struggles to his feet,” Culwell sings in his gritty rasp. “When an old bull falls down on his ass I guess it ain’t so sweet.”
Born and raised in the Texas panhandle, Culwell earned widespread acclaim with his first two albums, 2015’s Flatlands and 2018’s The Last American, which prompted Rolling Stone to hail his writing as both “gorgeous and bleak” and NPR to rave that his songs “wring grace from plain and often dark details.” The music earned Culwell dates with Patty Griffin, Billy Joe Shaver, Hayes Carll, Patrick Sweany, and Ashley Monroe among others, alongside a full calendar of his own headline shows around the country and millions of streams across platforms.