Ryan’s Raleigh — disappearing fast…

SadlacksBefore

Sadlack’s, circa 2012.

Toward the end of “Losering,” I wrote that Ryan Adams probably wouldn’t even recognize his old hometown anymore, given how much of Raleigh has been torn down and rebuilt since Whiskeytown’s 1990s heyday. You don’t have to look any farther than the Hillsborough Street strip, Raleigh’s main drag along the northern edge of the NC State campus, to see how some of the city’s most notable Whiskeytown-era landmarks are disappearing, bulldozed to make way for fancy new real-estate projects going up.

Right across from the NC State Bell Tower is where the former Sadlack’s stood, at the corner of Hillsborough and Enterprise streets. Here it is on the right, the place where Whiskeytown first convened 20 years ago. But Sadlack’s has been gone since its last-waltz blowout this past New Year’s Eve and below is what that block looks like now, on its way to becoming a 135-room Aloft Hotel that will open sometime next summer.

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The new Aloft Hotel rises over the grave of Sadlack’s.

 


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Stanhope, under construction on the block where The Brewery used to be.

About seventh-tenths of a mile west of where Sadlack’s was, The Brewery nightclub used to stand at 3009 Hillsborough Street; site of countless late and great nights with Whiskeytown, Backsliders, 6 String Drags and other cool bands from all over. After the club was torn down in 2011, that block stood vacant for a couple of years, home to nothing more than weeds and parked cars. Now it’s being turned into the huge student-residential complex you see going up here on the right; called Stanhope, it’s also opening next summer.

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6 Daisy Street in Raleigh, home of Lazy Stars, American Rock Highway and other bands from Ryan Adams’ distant past.

Fortunately, not quite everything has vanished. Ryan’s old residence with Tom Cushman, the Daisy Street House, is still standing just off Hillsborough Street. Here it is on the left; I parked in front of it when I went by to take the picture of the old Brewery site.

Also, former Brewery co-owner (and “Come Pick Me Up” co-writer) Van Alston is still a nightlife impressario in Raleigh, picking up musicians’ bar tabs at his current downtown joint Slim’s. In recognition of his many contributions to the music community over the years, the local alt-weekly here recently bequeathed Alston with one of its annual Indies Arts Awards — for which congratulations are in order.

Alas, something else that hasn’t changed all these years later is that Ryan remains a magnet for hecklers, even when he’s playing bigger, plusher rooms than he ever played in Raleigh; and he still doesn’t hesitate to fire back. A friend of mine knows someone who caught Ryan’s show in Boston the other night and passed along the following account of the evening:

Ryan Adams is incredibly gifted, but sober or not, still a bit of a jerk on stage. Nothing like when I first saw him play at the House of Blues on Lansdowne Street, where he put his back to audience for much of the show, and/or stood in the stage wings, in darkness, out of the view of the paying attendees. He ripped into a couple of fans last night, one of whom was right next to me. “You should write a blog to speak your mind, and join this asshole in front of me, you fucking prick!” That was typical of comments throughout the night… My friend was somehow able to isolate Adams’ snarky persona from his performance and still enjoy the event, something I wasn’t quite able to do.

Oh, Ryan…

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Chart me up

Well, it appears that Ryan Adams’ time on the U.S. charts with his current eponymously titled album was short despite the career-high debut. Ryan Adams (Pax Am/Blue Note Records) entered the Billboard 200 on Sept. 27 at a lofty No. 4, three notches higher than his previous personal best; but the album’s position has dropped every week since then. And on the Nov. 15 chart (the one topped by queen-of-the-universe Taylor Swift’s 1989), it’s all the way out of Billboard’s Top 200 after just seven weeks.

Ryan Adams has sold 82,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, so it hasn’t really reached beyond Ryan’s previously converted hardcore following. If the album is to see any further chart action, one of its songs will have to catch on at radio. But like Tom Petty’s A&R man from “Into the Great Wide Open,” I don’t hear a single.

VampiresBB156Meantime, the chart gods taketh away, but they also giveth. Even though Ryan Adams is gone from the Billboard 200, Ryan still gets one more week there thanks to his latest seven-inch EP “Vampires” — which debuts at a modest No. 156 on the Nov. 15 chart. Since “Vampires” is a limited-edition release, this will most likely be its only chart week. And given that “Vampires” also ain’t that good, I wish “Jacksonville” had been the indie seven-inch to make the chart instead.

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Ryan Adams: Lordy lordy, look who’s 40

40thBDIn my mind’s eye image of Ryan Adams, the picture that comes to mind remains that hyper-enthusiastic kid I first met two decades ago, and it probably always will be. Back then, he was 20 years old and lying his way up to North Carolina’s legal drinking age, even though he looked boyish enough to pass for a high-school underclassman. And it’s kind of mind-boggling to think about how much time has gone by, but that young man hits a major midlife milestone today,  Nov. 5, in that he turns 40 years old. Suddenly, this makes more sense than it did two years ago.

So happy 4oth birthday, Ryan; here’s to you (and the rest of us) staying forever young. Sing out, brother man, in between tweets with your name/birthday doppelganger.

The rest of us can take this here Bryan-or-Ryan Quiz (yes, I got 10 out of 10 and I bet every other superfan will, too).

 

 

 

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Halloweenhead: Ryan Adams embraces the suck with “Vampires”

DRAVampiresWell, it’s one step forward and two steps back on Planet DRA, same as it ever was. I’ve been trying and failing to warm up to the Ryan Adams album for a couple of months, but things were looking up with “Jacksonville” — a lovely little non-album seven-inch that followed the album, and the best thing I’d heard out of Ryan in eons. “Jacksonville” was good enough to make me hold out some hopes for its followup seven-inch, “Vampires,” which is out just in time for Halloween and yay for that. But seasonally appropriate release-date timing is about all “Vampires” has going for it, because all four of these songs pretty much fully suck. The beyond-grating “Clown Asylum” is the worst offender, but they’re all so lazily executed that I can’t figure out why he even bothered unless this is an experiment in finding out just how blindly devoted his fanbase really is.

Kind of a cool cover, though. I guess.

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God, I love Canada

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 3.35.54 PMFor the first year or so that “Losering” was out, checking my sales ranking on Amazon was a daily (oh, who am I kidding, several times a day, at least) ritual, even though it’s a bad idea. I was finally able to wean myself off of it after the book dropped to ranking consistently below No. 100,000, and I rarely check it anymore. It’s as humblingly low as ever here in the U.S. (yes, I just looked); but today, on a whim, I decided to check it on Amazon Canada for the first time in a while. Lo and behold and lookee here, for whatever reason it’s somehow back up to No. 1 again on the country book list up there, ahead of tomes about Buck Owens, George Jones, Gram Parsons and Loretta Lynn.

As Jim Lauderdale might say, now that’s Americana!


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Ryan Adams picks up Bloodshot, while the NC Music Love Army sticks to the plan

BS20Ryan Adams released just one full-length on Bloodshot Records, but that album was a doozy — his 2000 solo debut Heartbreaker, which (as recounted in chapter 12 of “Losering”) cracked 300,000 copies in U.S. sales. That’s the Chicago-based alternative-country label’s commercial high-water mark by far, with albums by Neko Case, Justin Townes Earle and Alejandro Escovedo next in line. All these years later, Heartbreaker remains Bloodshot’s top seller even though the label’s licensing agreement for it expired last year, which means that Heartbreaker is officially out of print nowadays. That probably won’t be changing anytime soon, either. When I inquired with Ryan’s publicist about whether or not a reissue was in the works, the answer that came back was, “There are no plans that I’m aware of” (and she would know).

Nevertheless, Heartbreaker remains a big part of Bloodshot’s history. So it’s no surprise that its songs dominate While No One Was Looking: Toasting 20 Years of Bloodshot Records, a two-disc Bloodshot tribute album set to be released Nov. 18. While No One Was Looking compiles 38 covers of songs from Bloodshot releases, with versions by luminaries including Ted Leo, Handsome Family, Minus Five and the regrettably named (but still quite good) Diarrhea Planet. Four songs on the track list came from Heartbreaker, more than any other album in the Bloodshot catalog:

* “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” — performed by Blitzen Trapper from Portland, Ore. (thanks, Erin!)
* “My Winding Wheel” — Seattle indie-folk duo Ivan & Alyosha
* “Come Pick Me Up” — Superchunk
* “Oh My Sweet Carolina” — San Francisco’s Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers

You can listen to the very fine Blitzen Trapper cover below, and the versions of “Sweet Carolina” and “Winding Wheel” are also both quite lovely. But the real revelation is Chapel Hill punk band Superchunk’s “Come Pick Me Up” — take a listen to the stream on Pitchfork — which revs up the original’s dirge pace to a fast and gleeful raveup (stoked by Whiskeytown alumnus Jon Wurster on the drums). Covering Ryan’s Heartbreaker songs is getting to be a thing for Superchunk guitarist Mac McCaughan, who similarly recast “Oh My Sweet Carolina” with his other band Portastatic for another tribute compilation a few years back.



Even beyond the four Heartbreaker songs, Ryan casts a long shadow over the rest of While No One Was Looking. In terms of both songs and performers, the album is littered with Ryan’s former collaborators (Caitlin Cary, Alejandro Escovedo) and rivals (Robbie Fulks, Old 97s). Superchunk isn’t the only act from Ryan’s home state of North Carolina, either; there’s also Hiss Golden Messenger, Dex Romweber Duo and most of all the North Carolina Music Love Army — featuring Ryan’s old Whiskeytown bandmate Caitlin, head Backslider Chip Robinson and 6 String Drag’s Kenny Roby — turning Graham Parker’s “Stick to the Plan” into something like an ironic latterday answer to the old Kennedy campaign theme “High Hopes,” describing a certain political party’s apparent we-know-best attitude:

Don’t pay no attention to what the experts say
Too much intelligence gets in the way
Yeah it gets in the way
You know it gets in the way
And if you wanna be happy
Be like Forrest Gump everyday.

NCMLA14The NC Music Love Army has been busy this fall in conjunction with the upcoming midterm elecitons. One of the nation’s marquee contests is North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis — a brutal and interminable campaign that’s on course to be the most expensive in history, with total spending expected to top a staggering $100 million. To raise spirits, awareness and turnout, the Love Army crew has been putting out new songs that can be heard here. The most notable of the new tunes is an environmental anthen called “Senator’s Lament,” in which Caitlin Cary’s fiddle features prominently. The lyrics are below.

“Senator’s Lament”

There are places in the ocean
They are dark and sacred still
We cannot reach them
But we can ruin them
With a greed no sea can fill.

Oh green mountain, her bones are older
Than the pillars of any town
But we move her with our big plans
Dig out her heart and steal her gown.

Oh Carolina, how I love you
And your ever-changing ways
I didn’t see how much I hurt you
I only hope I’m not too late.

There are children in the harvest
Their backs are bent to rain and sun
And we profit while they’re poisoned
When they fall, don’t no one come

There are places in the ocean
That are dark and sacred still
We can’t reach them, but we can leave them
And we can ask this land to forgive
We can ask this land to forgive
We can ask this land to forgive…

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Old friends: Ryan Adams and Peter Blackstock

RyanPeter

Peter Blackstock, left, and Ryan Adams circa 1997.

So Ryan Adams played an “Austin City Limits” taping Wednesday night down in Texas. Alas, I was not there. But UT Press American Music Series co-editor Peter Blackstock was, reviewing the show for the Austin American-Statesman, and his presence did not go unnoticed from the stage. Ryan spotted Peter in the crowd during his opening solo acoustic set and gave him a shout-out as founder of No Depression magazine while noting that he’s “looking more and more like Jerry Garcia every day.”

Later, Ryan happened to be looking Peter’s way when he yawned, and he called him out on it: “Peter Blackstock, you come to my show and fucking yawn? What the fuck is that?” That led to Ryan inviting him to go jogging the next day (Peter replied via Twitter that he was game; but no word yet on whether or not that happened). And Peter’s name also came up while Ryan was telling stories about NASA and the band Kiss, with Ryan asking if Peter was getting everything down in his notes. At the end of the three-hour show, Ryan singled out Peter to thank him for coming.

As you can see from the picture above, Peter and Ryan go way back, to the mid-1990s Whiskeytown days, when Peter was putting Ryan on his magazine’s cover. It hasn’t always been friendly, especially when Peter unfavorably reviewed Ryan’s 2001 album Gold by likening it to “Pyrite” (inspiring one of Ryan’s more infamous online blowups, as recounted on page 151 of “Losering”). That came up Wednesday night after Ryan played a version of that album’s “When the Stars Go Blue” so beautiful, it reduced at least one person in the audience to tears. Ryan gave the audience member in question, an Austin musician named Nakia, a hug before declaring that Peter “fuckin’ hates that song” and dubbing him “the Austin Music hall monitor.”

A lesser person (me, say) probably would have recounted at least some of this in the show review. But Peter stuck with the music, and you can read his review here. I’ll be curious to see if any of the banter winds up in whatever “ACL” airs, which should show up sometime in 2015. Meanwhile, based on the Twitter exchange below, Ryan and Peter seemed to end the evening on friendly terms.


 

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Girl at Ryan Adams concert…

How can this craigslist missed connection from Calgary posting not be a Ryan Adams song? It could almost be the sequel to Whiskeytown’s “Factory Girl.”


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It don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime…

DRAframedNot too long ago, I did a post about an “ASSESSMENT WRITTEN (BY) RYAN ADAMS, HIMSELF,”  in which Ryan purportedly summarized the worth of his own solo catalog in his inimitably self-deprecating style. It appeared to be a legitimate Ryan-penned artifact; and I am happy to report that it’s not only for real, but you can view the original item at an Indianapolis record store called Indy CD & Vinyl.

After hearing from a fellow who used to work at the store, I called up owner Annie Skinner to ask about it. She placed the date of origin as Aug. 3, 2006 — when Ryan played a nearby Indianapolis club called The Vogue with Juliana Hatfield.

“He stops by here pretty much every time he’s in town,” Skinner said. “And, um, he can be pretty messed up. (Note: Perhaps that accounts for the fact that Ryan claimed to be 33 years old at the time he wrote this, when he was actually only 31 in August 2006) I’m sure you know that Ryan will get into relationships with record-store clerks where he’s calling and sending stuff. There was one staff member here he became friendly with, a guy he put on the list for the show and even played a song for. That (self-assessment) was something he did for him.”

The Indy’s staff was kind enough to send along a picture of the framed document, which used to hang on the wall at the store until, alas, it fell and broke; note the bottom left corner of the frame. So they had to dig around a bit to find it. But anyway, here it is.

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What might have been: Ryan Adams goes back to “Jacksonville”

RyanAdamsCoverBelieve it or not, I really don’t go out of my way to be contrary about Ryan Adams’ late-period work. With every record he’s released since the Whiskeytown days, I’ve put in a fair amount of listens, trying to find something to like. And while they all have some merit (or at least a handful of decent songs), overall most of them come up short for me. That goes for the current eponymous album Ryan Adams, which has drawn mostly positive reviews but still strikes me as somewhere between meh and okay. There’s a song or two on it that I’ll find myself humming along with, but for the most part my preliminary conclusion on it from just over a month ago still stands:

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.

draJvilleIf I thought that Ryan could no longer do this kind of work anymore — if he had really moved on from that phase of his life, personally as well as artistically, to the point that it just wasn’t in him — I believe I could reconcile that and move on myself. But then he does something like his latest seven-inch EP, “Jacksonville”-“I Keep Running”-“Walkedypants,” and it just keeps me hangin’ on.

It’s not flawless, of course. “Walkedypants” is one of Ryan’s infamous in-studio goofs, two-and-a-half minutes you’ll never need to hear more than once. The other two songs, however, could be the missing link between Whiskeytown’s dark masterpiece Strangers Almanac and Ryan’s ambitious ornate-pop effort Pneumonia (with a little solo-era Cold Roses thrown in). More than a decade and a half later, he’s gone from sounding older than his years to sounding like he’s finally caught up with himself.

In glorious shades of pop-twang, Ryan sketches out yet another bittersweet lament for the old North Carolina hometown he used to curse. But you can’t tell me he doesn’t love it now, just from the way his voice quavers on the “Oh, Jacksonville” chorus. It’s heart-stoppingly lovely. Then, just to split the arrow in the bullseye, he follows that with another attempt to explain in song why he’s still running away from it after all this time.

I’m faster than the pain
That’s running through my veins
And you can’t break my heart if you don’t know my name
I keep running…

But that’s the thing. Run from something long enough and eventually you’ll find yourself running back to it (“Run To You,” indeed). And close to 20 years since Whiskeytown’s heyday, Ryan can still resonate on that wavelength when he gets a mind to. Had he done a whole album like this, he’d deserve the current round of accolades and a whole lot more. Instead, he puts out a major-label album that sounds like second-rate Tom Petty/Bryan Adams mash-ups while relegating his best work in years — songs that sound like they actually mean something! — to a limited-edition seven-inch release.

You have gone missing from my life…

Ryan Adams is better than Ryan Adams and “Jacksonville” proves it. I really wish I could have picked someone less frustrating as object of neurotic fandom. But for the seven-and-a-half minutes “Jacksonville” and “I Keep Running” are playing, it feels just like old times.

That’ll have to do.


 

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