Last month, you might recall, Billy The Kid undertook the project of recording one Ryan Adams song per day throughout January, 31 songs in all. That was plenty ambitious, but here’s something even more ambitious in its own way: Elliott Humphries, a singer-songwriter from the North Carolina town of Burlington, has applied something like the Mermaid Avenue treatment to a Ryan lyric called “Am I Unstable.”
“Am I Unstable” dates back to September of 2000, when Whiskeytown threw together a last-minute impromptu show in Raleigh, and there’s every chance that was the only time it was ever played in public. Peter Blackstock was there and says it sounded like more of a sketch than a finished song; but it still made enough of an impression for him to hit up Ryan for the lyrics by e-mail, which Ryan sent and then apparently forgot all about. “Am I Unstable” disappeared into the ether as another of the hundreds of songs Ryan has left behind over the years, never to be heard again…
…Until Peter passed along the lyrics to Humphries, a major Ryan fan. Since the music had never been recorded and was long-forgotten, Humphries came up with a melody and a bridge to go with the verses, a process he admits felt “like messing with a Picasso.” He then recorded it, solo acoustic, and it’s fittingly raw and jittery.
“I tried to recapture what Ryan might have been thinking and feeling at that point,” Humphries says. “It was very difficult, took me like six months to get anything that I thought was decent. It’s hard writing behind your heroes because you second-guess yourself. Honestly, I wanted to write something that Ryan would be proud of if he ever heard it.”
Well, Ryan, if you’re out there: Take a listen. Also, “Am I Unstable” will be on the set list when Humphries’ band Be The Moon plays a show in Mebane on Saturday — the first time it’s been played live in nearly 13 years.