Breaking hearts with CMT Edge

CMTEdgeLogoIt probably would have helped “Losering” in the marketplace if its publication had coincided with one of Ryan Adams’ album releases. Alas, that didn’t happen. But this month’s release of Ryan Adams has belatedly reflected a bit of light back onto “Losering,” which has been nice. The latest place for it to turn up is on CMTEdge.com, the Americana section of Country Music Television’s website, which has a list of Ryan’s “10 Essential Songs.”

The author is Stephen M. Deusner, a very fine writer who happens to be the colleague who tipped me off about the Ryan/Bryan typeface similarity (and whose Pitchfork review of the new album Ryan brushed off even though it was quite fair, at least to me). I also like the fact that the entry quoting “Losering” comes right before one of my favorite obscurities in Ryan’s catalog. Check it below.

 

CMTEdge

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Ryan Adams gets reckless

Multiple reviewers, including yours truly, have pointed out that some songs on the new Ryan Adams album sound strikingly similar to Ryan’s name/birthday doppelganger Bryan Adams. And in an email discussion, a critic colleague of mine mentioned that the Ryan-and-Bryan similarities extend to the area of typography, too — most notably the cover of Bryan Adams’ 1984 album Reckless (from whence came “Summer of ’69,” a song Ryan hates hearing about).

So I decided to take a look for comparative purposes, and…well, see for yourself. Compare the typefaces and, except for Bryan’s use of italics, they don’t look similar so much as identical. Maybe it’s just coincidence; but don’t forget that Reckless came out in what seems to be Ryan’s favorite year, and Ryan is an unabashed Bryan Adams fan.

No doubt, Ryan will also be picking up the Super Deluxe Edition four-disc box set of Reckless when it comes out on Nov. 25.

 

RyanAdamsCoverBryanAdamsReckless

 

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Ryan Adams in Blurt: A stone-cold classic

So the new album Ryan Adams came out yesterday, accompanied by the obligatory press blitz as well as some goofy infomercial work by Ryan and friends. Both the album and Ryan’s latest round of live shows have drawn generally (but certainly not unanimously) positive reviews. And Ryan himself stirred up a pot or two with a lengthy Stereogum Q&A interview in which he referred to his former band the Cardinals as “that fucking shit sandwich,” causing much angst among more avid fans of his late-period work.

BlurtRyanAs I’ve said before, this should not surprise anyone because Ryan seems to be one of those artists who needs to destroy the past before he can move on from it. Whether it’s former bands or his own catalog, he goes out of his way to disown everything after the fact. Not too many years ago, he was talking about the Cardinals as his musical soulmates; but now that they’re in his rearview mirror, Ryan holds up his current band The Shining as his latest end-all-and-be-all. Nevertheless, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that he’ll one day dismiss The Shining in similarly poetic terms.

Meanwhile, “Losering” is prominently referenced in a couple of stories that have come down the pike this go-round. First is a timeline-type listicle on vulture.com, “A Brief History of Ryan Adams, From Vices to Voice Mails,” which quotes from the book (with credit to the book as source, which I appreciate). And second is this admirably fair Ryan Adams review in Blurt magazine by my pal Fred Mills, who thinks a lot more of the new album than I do. But Fred makes the case for it well enough to help convince me that I should keep listening, and so I shall.

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Ryan Adams and the parakeet in the coal mine

DRAcommercialI’ve always thought Ryan Adams had pretty fantastic comedic instincts (gotta give it up for his “black metal” version of “16 Days,” among many other very funny onstage moments from over the years). But this “commercial” he’s done for tomorrow’s release of his new eponymously titled album…well, I’m sorry, but the two words that come to mind are “excruciatingly” and “awkward,” despite some impressive star power including Gary Shandling, Jeff Garlin, Don Was and Bob Mould. Guess they must have banged this one out while making that video for Mould’s “The War.”

Anyway, take a look. Maybe you’ll find it funnier than I did…

ADDENDA: Wow, looks like they made yet another video, this one in starkly noirish black and white — check it out. And a third, this one, which is genuinely funny. But the soup one, man, I just don’t know…

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Ryan Adams drops by “The War”

RyanBobMouldSo good old Jon Wurster, who was one of Whiskeytown’s drummers back in the day, is playing in Bob Mould’s band nowadays amongst many other activities (some of which are cataloged here). In that capacity, he’s in Mould’s very fine new video for “The War,” a song off Mould’s current album Beauty and Ruin (Merge Records) that is brimming with intimations of mortality:

This war has worn me down
Broken dreams and a hole in the ground
Don’t give up
And don’t give in.

Lo and behold, Wurster’s old Whiskeytown bandmate Ryan Adams (who has been known to cover the occasional Mould song) also turns up in the video right about as Mould is murmuring those words. Ryan appears in the final 30 seconds of “The War,” in a cameo that seems to imply a passing of the torch. He comes in just before the 4:20 mark, looking pretty 420 himself (heh); check that out here.

While I’m at it, Wurster also appears in Mould’s first Beauty and Ruin video, for “I Don’t Know You Anymore” (which features another high-profile cameo, by Colin Melloy of Decemberists). And Mould is quoted speaking at length about Ryan in this very fine interview feature.

ADDENDA (9/11-13/14): When Mould played New York City on Sept. 10, Ryan joined him during the encore. Ryan was in New York to play Letterman.

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Reckoning with Ryan Adams’ new album

It’s complicated
I just don’t love you anymore…

– Ryan Adams, “Am I Safe” (2014)


One thing that writing “Losering” did for me was to underscore the futility of music journalism and criticism, especially album reviews. The book forced me to reconsider release-date-vintage things I’d thought and written about everything from the Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown discography in the harsh light of the present, a process that induced a cringe or two. While I think I was more or less right about most of the records, there were definitely some I had significantly underrated at first (especially Love Is Hell) or thought too much of (Rock N’ Roll). And as I was finishing up the book in the fall of 2011, Ashes and Fire came out and I overrated that one, too. I should not have been surprised; just because I was writing it in a book rather than a newspaper review, that didn’t make my snap judgment any more long-lasting.

Something else “Losering” emphasized was the futility of fandom: the fact that if you follow anybody long enough, they will surely disappoint you. Whether I should feel that way or not, I am disappointed in Ryan. I wish I didn’t feel that way because I hate being That Guy — the dock worker in Liverpool who liked The Beatles during their Cavern Club days but thought they sold out when they went on “Ed Sullivan.” Or the guy in Greenwich Village who thought Bob Dylan should have stuck with old folk songs. Or the dude in Asbury Park who thought Bruce Springsteen’s calling was to stay a bar-band journeyman. So maybe giving up what he had in order to get to where he is now was the right call for Ryan; perhaps his upcoming self-titled album will one day be mentioned in the same breath as Rubber Soul or Blonde on Blonde or Darkness on the Edge of Town.

But…I don’t think so.

RyanAdamsCoverSo anyway, yes, Ryan Adams (Pax Am/Blue Note Records) will be released next week; in the meantime, you can listen to a stream of it here, here, here, or here. A few reviews are starting to appear, because right around or even before release date is when outlets tend to be interested in running them. Never mind that the pre-release period, when a given artist does a bunch of interviews (usually saying some variation on the same thing in each one), tends to be the least-interesting part of a record’s life cycle. It’s just how the game goes.

At least Ryan has been his usual swaggering, quotable self in his latest round of interviews, covering all his by-now-obligatory recurrent bullet points. Drug use, check; disavowing outlandish behavior he has supposedly outgrown, check; references to his prolific nature by way of another high-profile addition to his stash of unreleased music, check; tantalizing suggestion that he might actually release one of his “lost” golden oldies, check; and through it all, Ryan’s insistence that he always just goes with the flow — check.

As for the record itself, whatever I think about it at this point, chances are good I’ll think something completely different a year from now. But you know me, I can never shut the hell up even when I know I should. So here are a few initial impressions based on several days of listening to Ryan Adams:

(1) This might be damning with faint praise, but at least Ryan Adams is better than I expected it to be based on the lead single “Gimme Something Good” — a song that I still find pretty ho-hum after a decent amount of listens over the past few months.

(2) Tom Petty’s shadow hangs heavily over this album, which is not an inherently bad thing because Tom Petty is really good. Multiple songs (most notably “Trouble” and “Stay With Me”) have wailing guitar leads echoing Petty’s 1980 signature hit “Refugee,” and the overall vibe and dynamics are very similar to Damn the Torpedoes-era Tom Petty. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Ryan Adams is a more engaging Petty album than Petty’s own current effort Hypnotic Eye.

(3) On the other hand, it pains me to say this, but other songs on Ryan Adams seem reminiscent of (God help me) Bryan Adams, especially “Feels Like Fire.” Now if you’re going to evoke Bryan Adams, “Run To You” would definitely be the right song for it. But still…Bryan Adams? Et tu, Ryan?

Elsewhere, “My Wrecking Ball” sounds like Whiskeytown’s “Avenues” as rewritten by Springsteen, while “I Just Might” sounds like a Springsteen demo. And speaking of popular rock-star dudes of a certain age evoked by this album, let’s see what Ryan’s old Whiskeytown bandmate Phil Wandscher thinks:

PhilRA

(4) It took me a while, but ultimately I decided that my main objection to Ashes and Fire was that it was a bit too subdued and monochromatic. While I wouldn’t call Ryan Adams jumpy or anything, it does vary tempos and textures enough to make me think I might someday prefer this one. But ask me a year or so from now.

(5) It’s tempting to read autobiography into anyone’s songs, but especially with someone like Ryan whose songs have been an open book for so much of his career. Maybe he’s turned over a new leaf, in which he’s no longer writing about himself. But if these songs are anything like an accurate reflection of his current mental state, he’s in a mighty grim place nowadays — and spending a lot of time in his own head. The opening couplet on the album, from “Gimme Something Good,” pretty much sets the tone: I can’t talk/My mind is so blank/So I’m going for a walk/I’ve got nothing left to say…

“I Just Might” is no cheerier: “Everything’s broken/In my mind/Ain’t no place to run/Ain’t no place to hide.” And “Shadows” likens the space between the singer’s ears to prison with a “field of razor wire” that “comes a little closer.” By the end, he’s “Tired of Giving Up” and decides to “Let Go.” And so he does.

(6) A self-titled album, especially by someone who has been around a while, implies a statement-of-purpose declaration of sorts: This is who I am. And what bothers me about Ryan Adams is just how generic it is. It’s not bad — in fact, it’s perfectly pleasant while it’s playing — but it also sounds like something that any number of other people could have made. I’d rather hear another record that Ryan and only Ryan could have made. Given his thoughts on his own catalog, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Maybe ever.

And that, dear reader, is why I’m disappointed (though not quite as harshly so as this guy).


EthanReckoningMeantime, I actually do have a current favorite Ryan record, sort of, an album that unobtrusively slipped into the marketplace last month. That would be The Reckoning (Three Crows Music) by Ethan Johns, a mate of Ryan’s who has produced a significant chunk of his post-Whiskeytown solo career (Heartbreaker, Gold and 29). In a role reversal, Ryan is listed as producer of The Reckoning and also credited with drums, bass, electric guitar, synthesis and “Trash can.”

There’s not much trashy about this, though. Understated and emotional, The Reckoning is a song cycle about a young immigrant on the frontier in pre-Civil War America. But never mind the storyline. This brooding little record has a lovely atmosphere that seems fragile but is powerful enough to linger and draw you in. Imagine Heartbreaker if Nick Drake had made it; take a listen here and see what you think.

I’ll keep listening to both these records, of course, and I’ll continue paying attention to Ryan for as long as he’s making music (yeah, even when he’s just goofing off). But down the road, I’m fairly certain that The Reckoning will be the record I’m still interested in hearing.

ADDENDUM (9/9/14): Ethan Johns interview.

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Ryan Adams rates himself

DRAself-reviewI can’t vouch for the authenticity of this “ASSESSMENT WRITTEN (BY) RYAN ADAMS, HIMSELF,” which DRA super-fan Darren Combs recently unearthed from a tumblr page; looks like an artifact that someone came across in a record store, and it would seem to date back to sometime after Ryan turned 33 years old in November 2007 (Probably around the time the Cardinology album came out in the fall of 2008). Whether or not it’s genuine, however, this sure reads like something the Ryan I remember would have written, and with pretty much the same handwriting to boot.

As to what he’s saying here, it will surprise no one who has read either “Losering” or this assessment that Ryan and I have vastly different takes on the relative merits of his catalog — although I’m basically with him on both Gold and Love Is Hell. But I’d say he vastly underrates Heartbreaker (as well as Demolition and, to a lesser extent, Rock N’ Roll) while grossly overrating the Cardinals albums (Cold Roses aside, of course). Whiskeytown, naturally, goes unmentioned.

Anyway, click on the picture at right to enlarge it, or see below for the more easily legible typewritten version. Here is Ryan according to Ryan, circa 2008. Reading this, I can’t help but wonder: What would this version of Ryan Adams think of “Gimme Something Good” and the rest of the soon-to-be-released Ryan Adams?

 

RYAN ADAMS (SEE CARDINALS)
Non-Canadian Hack-Assface

At 33, it’s safe to say that most of these records blow. There are like 3 good songs (maybe) on Gold (2) on Demolition and NONE on Rock n’ Roll (AWFUL DON’T BUY) But….Love is Hell is good because I was high as fuck back then and it worked. ALL the Cardinals records have good tunes. If you are a redneck or want to be disappointed with me buy Heartbreaker. But it’s utter shit and I didn’t mean a word of it. I like Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights, Follow the Lights, Easy Tiger (wait for the Cardinals ver.) and CARDINOLOGY. Keep it real — Ryan Adams

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Tributaries: Whiskeytown’s “Strangers Almanac”

StrangersTributeI sure do wish I could be in the vicinity of Athens, Ga., on August 14, because an event I’d dearly love to attend is happening down there that night. Various luminaries from Athens bands including Futurebirds, Drive-By Truckers, Party Dolls and others are teaming up to perform a tribute show at Athens’ Green Room nightclub centered on Whiskeytown’s 1997 magnum opus Strangers Almanac — which is still my favorite record from the Ryan Adams discography (a point also made in Chapter Eight of “Losering” and even a radio play I attempted). They’ll play the whole album live starting at 10 p.m.

Speaking of tribute shows,  a followup to last year’s rather wonderful “Losering” tribute at Deep South is in the works for later this fall. Keep watching this space for details.

 

 

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It’s official…

RyanAdamsCoverThe eponymously titled Ryan Adams will indeed be released Sept. 9 via Blue Note Records, with lead single “Gimme Somthing Good” and 10 other songs as per the track list below, not to mention a cover shot of Ryan himself looking…let’s call it a shade unkempt. It does not appear that the album includes the single’s “Aching For More” B-side (which has a cameo from none other than Johnny Depp — ah, synchronicity!), so you’ll have to buy the seven-inch for that. The album is available for pre-order on amazon right now.

 

1. Gimme Something Good
2. Kim
3. Trouble
4. Am I Safe
5. My Wrecking Ball
6. Stay With Me
7. Shadows
8. Feels Like Fire
9. I Just Might
10. Tired Of Giving Up
11. Let Go

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Whiskeytown’s dollars and cents — but really just cents

By some accounts, Whiskeytown alumnus Ryan Adams has done well enough in the music business to amass a sizable fortune. But just in case you’re under the impression that playing in a rock band is a path to riches for everyone, check out the Facebook post that Whiskeytown drummer Skillet Gilmore put up yesterday, concerning his latest earnings for “Midway Park” (one of Whiskeytown’s best songs, and kickoff track to the 1996 full-length debut Faithless Street):

MidwayPark$

This is, alas, a common experience for musicians who have discovered that the internet has not exactly leveled the playing field financially (and I’m here to tell ya that the world of online music has some distressing similarities to what happens with books). But since Gilmore is married to another former Whiskeytown member, I couldn’t resist pointing out that at least he gets an extra share of last quarter’s “Midway Park” loot. Skillet being Skillet, his reply was, of course, priceless:

MidwayPark$Response

 

 

 

 

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