Author Archives: dmenconi

About dmenconi

Music critic, arts reporter, author of the occasional book; lives and works in Raleigh, North Carolina -- God's country, so please don't drive like hell through it.

“Losering” live: four for four

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Saturday marked 20 years to the day since Whiskeytown’s epochal Strangers Almanac album made its debut, so we marked the occasion with “Losering 4” — the latest installment of Ryan Adams tribute shows that happen here in Raleigh on a semi-annual basis. And it was another wonderful night with some fantastic performances.

Bobby Bryson (returning from the first “Losering” show back in 2013) got things rolling with a “Come Pick Me Up” singalong. Ryan Kennemur, the one performer to have played all four of these “Losering” shows, gave me a lump in the throat with “Jacksonville Skyline.” Garland Mason’s rendition of “Be My Winding Wheel” kept that going. Christiane and Eric Scholz were two of the best voices I’ve heard in recent memory, and they also showed great deep-cut attention to detail; Christiane’s take on “Enemy Fire” was nothing short of astonishing. Johnny Folsom 4’s David Burney put a Man-in-Black spin on “When the Rope Gets Tight (Don’t Fail Me Now).” And Antique Hearts and friends closed out the night with another spectacular start-to-finish rendition of Strangers Almanac, all 13 songs.

All that, and the show drew a very nice turnout that raised $750 for the Food Bank of Eastern and Central NC. Grateful appreciation and all credit to the musicians who played; and to Dave Rose, John Booker and the rest of the Deep South crew for making it happen. Once again: Thank you, friends.

Bobby Bryson
“Do You Still Love Me”
“When the Stars Go Blue”
“Come Pick Me Up”

Ryan Kennemur
“Jacksonville Skyline”
“Choked Up”
“If He Can’t Have You”

Garland Mason
“Be My Winding Wheel”
“Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.”
“Oh My Sweet Carolina”

Christiane
“Enemy Fire”
“Please Do Not Let Me Go”
“Bartering Lines”

Eric Scholz
“Do I Wait”
“Friendly Fire”
“Tennessee Square”

David Burney
“Lucky Now”
“Let It Ride”
“When the Rope Gets Tight (Don’t Fail Me Now)”

Antique Hearts, Strangers Almanac
“Inn Town”
“Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight”
“Yesterday’s News”
“16 Days”
“Everything I Do”
“Houses on the Hill”
“Turn Around”
“Dancing With the Women at the Bar”
“Waiting to Derail”
“Avenues”
“Losering” (prefaced by a verse of Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69”)
“Somebody Remembers the Rose”
“Not Home Anymore”
Encore: “Drank Like a River”

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Come Dancing (with the women at the bar)

BruxesThe first time I heard Rachel Hirsh perform her spooky version of Whiskeytown’s “Dancing With the Women at the Bar” was just over two years ago, at 2015’s “Losering 2: A Tribute to the Songs of Ryan Adams” show. It really was fantastic and I said as much at the time, writing that I thought it was something “she really should record.” I wasn’t the only one who thought so, and I’m happy to report that Rachel has indeed recorded a very fine version with her band Bruxes  — which is now out in the world; you can take a listen on Spotify, and buy it on Amazon.

The original version of “Dancing,” of course, first appeared on Strangers Almanac, Whiskeytown’s alternative-country landmark, which was released on July 29, 1997. That makes this Saturday the album’s 20-year anniversary, and we’re going to mark the occasion in style. That night, Raleigh’s Deep South The Bar will host “Losering 4,” with Antique Hearts playing Strangers Almanac from start to finish — which they pulled off with amazing aplomb last year, so it should be great. David Burney, Christiane, Eric Scholz, Garland Mason, Bobby Bryson and Ryan Kennemur are all on the bill, too, and yours truly will be there to serve as host.

Tickets are $7-$10, with proceeds again earmarked for the Food Bank of Eastern and Central NC. Come on out.

 

 

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In your eyes, I’m “Losering”

In addition to having a way with a T-shirt, DRA superfan Thom Bennett is a regular crackerjack when it comes to Photoshop. For example, below is something he dashed off for a Ryan Adams Archive thread about whether or not “Losering” is worth reading — a riff on the most iconic scene from the 1989 romantic-comedy classic “Say Anything.” But where Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” plays on a boombox in the original, I kind of imagine this scene with Whiskeytown’s “16 Days” as theme music.

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The final countdown: “16 Days” vs. “Come Pick Me Up”

16CPMU.jpgAfter six rounds and 2,000-plus online fan votes, it’s come to this: the “BEST DRA SONG 2017” has a final matchup for all the marbles between a pair of No. 1 seeds, “16 Days” (from Whiskeytown’s 1997 masterpiece Strangers Almanac) and the Heartbreaker standard “Come Pick Me Up.”

There were other dark horses I was pulling for, including “Jacksonville” and “Dear Chicago.” But it’s hard to argue with the final pairing of these two particular signature tunes in the Ryan Adams universe — especially since they’re both from my favorite era of his, the Whiskeytown/early solo period that is the focus of “Losering.” I love both songs, but ultimately…I’ve got to cast my vote for “16 Days.”

Voting will be open through Saturday (June 24). Vote here; check the complete bracket so far below, or here; and for more on the methodology, see this interview with poll-meister Christopher S. Bradley. Also below, Christopher’s compilation of some of the comments and complaints he has received via social media.

ADDENDUM (6/25/2017): And here are the final results. My choice didn’t win, but I’m not complaining. Well, maybe just a little.

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Well y’all, after 322 people cast their votes in the final matchup, the winner, by a landslide, is Come Pick Me Up!

Many of you predicted this would at least be in the finals early on, and being one of his best known songs, it was. Here’s the final bracket.

Thanks again to everyone who participated and gave comments of support and constructive criticism along the way. Special thanks to David Menconi and Chris Migliaccio.

Maybe next June we will try this again, but mix it up a little 😉.
For now, I will post the results of this year’s bracket to a yet to be finished blog.

 

 

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“Garbage”-Some RAA commenter

“These aren’t even his best songs.”-A bunch of unoriginal commenters

“Where is *insert unreleased track*, that’s his best song.”- A bunch of snobs.

“Where is *insert track that lost*, I love that song.”-Pretty much everyone

“This is torture.”-Random DRA Superfans commenter.

“This is like choosing between two children.” -A bigger bunch of unoriginal commenters.

“How could YOU pick song A over song B.” -Several commenters too lazy to pay attention for the past month

“How does this even work, what’s a bracket?”- People from other countries where people go to college to learn, not play/watch sports.

“The Russians hacked the voting.”- Everyone living a
continuous nightmare from November 8, 2016 -Present

“Thanks for doing this.”-Those of you I actually like.

“Jason Isbell sucks!”- People without ears

 

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Final Four in the “BEST DRA SONG 2017”

The “BEST DRA SONG 2017” listener poll has gone pretty much exactly according to Hoyle, in that it’s now down to the last four songs — and all four No. 1 seeds have made it into the Final Four. I’d call that an indication of how solid a job that superfan poll-meister Christopher S. Bradley did with seeding the bracket and putting this thing together.

So anyway, it’s come down to “16 Days” from the Whiskeytown bracket matched up against the Ashes & Fire track “Dirty Rain” (winner of the 2011-Present bracket) in one semifinal; and in the other, the Cardinals’ Cold Roses track “Let It Ride” facing off against Heartbreaker bracket champion “Come Pick Me Up,” which only narrowly beat out “Oh My Sweet Carolina” in the Elite Eight round. I’m pulling for “16 Days” versus “Come Pick Me Up” in the final, because those two songs both come from the heart of my favorite “Losering” era. But we’ll see.

Voting for this round will close at 11:45 p.m. Wednesday (June 21). Vote here and check the updated bracket here, or below.

 

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The Wheel rolls on: No. 75 on the all-time hit parade

Congratulations are on order for “Comin’ Right at Ya” star/subject/co-writer Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel, who just placed on a mightily impressive list — Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Country Artists of All Time.” The Wheel comes in at a solid No. 75, right behind Lee Ann Womack and just ahead of Marty Stuart. Further up, a number of other people who figure prominently in the “Comin’ Right at Ya Story” are in the top-10, including Waylon, Willie, Dolly and, of course, Merle (at No. 1, no less). Yes, Ray’s on a first-name basis with all of ’em.

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June madness continues: The brains behind the bracket

BracketManTaking the Ryan Adams fan universe by storm this week is the “BEST DRA SONG 2017” challenge, a tournament-style bracket to determine Ryan’s best-ever song as determined by fan vote. More than 600 people voted in the first round and there weren’t any huge surprises with the results, as all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the second round and only a few underdogs pulled off upsets. But on a personal level, I have to say that I found one of those lower-seed victories immensely satisfying: From the “2011-Present” region, No. 9 “Jacksonville” knocked off No. 8 “Gimme Something Good” (yes!).

Voting for round two is open through 11:45 p.m. Thursday (June 15), and then it will be on to the “Sweet 16.” The winner should emerge sometime around June 25.

This admirably ambitious project is the work of superfan Christopher S. Bradley, an attorney at a Pennsylvania-based law firm. He was kind enough to entertain a few questions about his methodology, which are below (lightly edited).

(1) Did you come up with the seedings and pairings yourself, or did others have input?

I originally came up with the bracket and regions (eras) first. I had to think of a way to distill his massive catalog down to a field of 64 without picking and choosing MY personal favorites. So I went through each “era” and pulled the songs off of albums and EPs from that era and made a “Group.” I was as transparent as possible when doing this, I listed what albums and EPs I pulled from in each group. I did not do doubles in the same group (“Anybody Wanna Take Me Home” was only listed once in the so-called “Heartbreaker” Group). However, I did include “This Is It” in the “Heartbreaker” group and the Cardinals Group. What resulted was a massive group play survey wherein respondents would choose 15 songs in each group and songs would be seeded according to number of votes received. Any ties were resolved by coin flip and any ties of three or more were winnowed down to a coin flip choice by random number generator (this only happened in the Cardinals Group). A song was assigned “heads” based on alphabetical order. The full results in PDF form can be found here.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, that 15×4 does not equal 64. I know there is a segment of the fanbase (myself included) that celebrates a lot of the unreleased material. So I created a fifth “Play-in” group with unique songs from “The Suicide Handbook,” “48 Hours,” “Pinkhearts 1 & 2,” “Darkbreaker,” “Destroyer,” “Fasterpiece,” “Let it B Minus,” “Swedish Sessions” and “Exile on Franklin Street.” The respondents were asked to select eight songs from this group that would be matched up highest to lowest seed and voted upon to make four 16 seeds. Only 50 people voted on the Play-In Matchups.

I deliberately left out the genre joke projects like Werewolph, The Shit, Sleazy Handshake, DJ Reggie, etc. While some of this stuff is fun, I made the executive decision deeming those projects outside the scope of this particular foray into superfandom.

My survey was not without mistakes, I left out some of the great tracks from the deluxe reissue of “Strangers Almanac” in the Whiskeytown Group, and many of the unreleased albums I have are missing some tracks here and there. I don’t believe this skewed the final results; many of the people I confided in correctly predicted it would more than likely come down to many of the more popular songs. The biggest surprise that made the field of 64 was “Jacksonville” off of the Pax Am Singles Series EP of the same name. All told, 260 people voted on the Group Play Survey.

(2) I presume the criteria was that songs had to be “officially” released in some fashion — no bootlegs, or songs that just existed live?

I did limit it to official releases, but in order to have people get a say on the unreleased material, I created that fifth group drawing from the bulk of his unreleased stuff. I had those winners seeded 16 because they’re unreleased and I didn’t feel comfortable having something Ryan didn’t officially release be above stuff he worked hard to polish into an official release. If a 16 seed were to upset a 1 seed in the tournament portion, then that segment of the fanbase who feels “Come Pick Me Up” is somehow worse than “Walls” would be vindicated in a more democratic fashion rather than including unreleased material by era and having it lose badly during group play.

I was pretty close to leaving out EPs and such from each group. But in the end, especially in the 2011-Present group, I decided to include them because there are a lot of amazing songs there. Part of me wanted people to discover more and more of his music. We can’t all be rabid superfans!

I don’t believe I included any live tracks or even the ones played live that are allegedly on “Blackhole” such as “Catherine” and “The Door.” To me, these would fall under the “unreleased” category; if I included some live music then I would have to include a lot of other live songs such as live covers Ryan has done many times. But album-released covers are fair game because, like “Wonderwall” and the entirety of “1989,” they’re his arrangements and versions of those songs.

(3) Part of the fun of being a Ryan Adams fan is that we’ve all got our favorite phases and stages — Whiskeytown, Cardinals, Gold and so on — which we insist are the best. What’s your favorite era of his?

Oh man, this is a hard question. I suppose I deserve it because I’m asking all these people to choose between some of their favorite songs. I guess if I were to choose it would be the Cardinals, because a lot of that music is one of the things that got me through law school with my sanity nearly intact.

The best part about music in general is its subjectivity; there is literally no way I can unequivocally tell you what I like is better than what you like because you can’t make someone not like something if it is their personal taste. This is the most scientific way I could come up with that would objectively pick the best Ryan Adams song. But if you’re a fan you still have the freedom to believe the Cardinals were the best thing since sliced bread and everything else is trash.

I am in a lot of the DRA Facebook groups where people are constantly making blanket statements like, “‘Ashes & Fire’ sucks,” “Why bother with anything Ryan does nowadays, he hasn’t been good since the Cardinals,” “Ryan Adams peaked with Whiskeytown,” “‘Love Is Hell’ is Ryan’s best work don’t @ me.” No one backs these statements up, because it is their personal preference; to me all of those statements are true depending on how I feel that day.

(4) What’s your background — where are you originally from, and when/how did your DRA fandom start?

I grew up in the rural northeastern portion of Pennsylvania where bro country rules the airwaves. I am a huge Bob Dylan fan and anyone with a passing interest in Dylanology can see the broad similarities between him and Ryan. They both refuse to be pigeonholed into any genre, they’re both prolific writers, they change their musical style album to album, era to era, and don’t give a flying fajita what the masses think. Hell, I’m sure Ryan would spit out his tea if he saw me even making that comparison. Late in my high school career I was turned on to Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Bottle Rockets, Son Volt, DBT, et. al. This of course led me to Whiskeytown and DRA.

I attended Duquesne University in Pittsburgh for undergrad and law school. During that time a lot of Ryan’s music got me through tough papers and finals and what not. I probably drove my various roommates insane by playing a lot of songs on repeat (I do that now to my wife). But to me, all of his music is timeless.

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Twenty years after: “Losering 4”

Losering4Next month will make (gulp) 20 long years since Whiskeytown released its 1997 alternative-country landmark Strangers Almanac, and we’ll be marking the anniversary in style with another “Losering”-themed tribute show. Scheduled for July 29 — which was indeed the  release date for Strangers back in 1997 — “Losering 4” will feature Antique Hearts in a reprise of last year’s “Losering 3” show, when they played Strangers from start to finish with stunning precision.

Also on the bill will be David Burney, Christiane, Eric Scholz, Garland Mason, Bobby Bryson and Ryan Kennemur, all playing other songs from Ryan’s catalog over the years. If I may be so bold as to make a request, I’m hoping for a song or two from this year’s Prisoner.

I’ll be there to serve as host, of course, and the proceeds will benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC. So pencil in July 29 for Deep South the Bar, and get tickets here.

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Parallel universes: “Lonesome Lies Before Us”

LonesomeA time or two over the years, I’ve had the idle thought: What if, after Whiskeytown disbanded and its members went their separate ways, Caitlin Cary rather than Ryan Adams had been the one to hit it big? How might Ryan’s life have turned out then?

While it doesn’t offer a hundred-percent accurate analog for either person, something like that alternative reality is the backdrop to Don Lee’s very fine new novel, “Lonesome Lies Before Us,” which is as tragicomic and shatteringly sad as, well, a Ryan Adams song. The main character in “Lonesome Lies Before Us” is Yadin Park, an alternative-country singer/songwriter modeled roughly on the real-life musicians Damien Jurado and Richard Buckner. But like Ryan, Yadin suffers from Miniere’s Disease — only Yadin’s case is severe enough to have forced his retirement as a professional musician.

Having retreated from the spotlight, Yadin lives a quiet life in small-town California. The story opens with him drifting into middle age while working as a carpet installer, and trying to keep from going numb in a loveless relationship of convenience with his boss’s daughter. Lee’s portrait seems pretty much exactly how things might have gone for Ryan if music hadn’t worked out as a career.

From afar, Yadin follows the career of his long-ago bandmate and girlfriend Mallory Wicks. Caitlin was never Ryan’s girlfriend, but she and Mallory are both fiddlers who learned the instrument by the Suzuki method. And in this book, Mallory is the one who went on to a high-profile and glamorous career involving stage, screen and radio hits. In the grips of a crisis of spiritual faith, and with his hearing beginning to fade as his life threatens to fall apart, Yadin suddenly finds himself writing songs again for the first time in years.

So he resolves to make one last album to put out into the world before disappearing from the scene for good (which he has to keep secret from his disapproving boss and girlfriend). That’s when Mallory unexpectedly reappears, in a reckoning that forces both of them to contemplate their individual and shared histories as well as motivations about music, art and life. It’s a fine read and a tale well-told, with a conclusion as tragic as it is inevitable.

I was honored to discover that “Losering” played a small role in “Lonesome Lies Before Us.” After hearing that author Don Lee had acknowledged my book in his “Author’s Note” (which is below), I got in touch to ask him about some of the background. Here is what he had to say:

I first got the idea for the novel when I read that Ryan Adams had contracted Ménière’s disease and was afraid he’d have to quit music. That really intrigued me, so I embarked on this story about an indie singer-songwriter losing his hearing to Ménière’s, who wants to self-release one last album. But the model for Yadin was more Richard Buckner and Damien Jurado, homely guys who don’t have much stage presence.

The model for the Yadin-Mallory duo was more Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires,  Mandolin Orange and HoneyHoney (all with female fiddle players). Also I thought a lot about the Civil Wars, and Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan, and of course Gram and Emmylou. That film about Gram, “Fallen Angel,” was a big source of inspiration.

 “Losering” was instrumental as a source. A chapter toward the end is a flashback to when the characters had been alt-country musicians in Raleigh, and I cribbed much of the local flavor from your book. I wouldn’t have been able to write that chapter without “Losering,” which really is terrific. I loved it.

 

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June madness: The “DRA Best Song” bracket

Well, now, here’s some good superfan fun: a tournament-style bracket to determine Ryan Adams’ best-ever song through 2017, as determined by fan vote. I could quibble about some of what’s missing from “Best DRA Song 2017” — what, no “Hey There Mrs. Lovely”?! — and there were more than a few selections I had to agonize over (“Prisoner” versus “To Be Without You,” that is a tough first-round matchup). But on the whole, I’d say this is pretty solid; I was particularly glad to see “Jacksonville” as a darkhorse entry in the “2011-Present” region.

Anyway, looks like the first round is open through 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, June 13. Vote here,  check out the entire bracket here (or below) and take a listen to the accompanying Spotify playlist. Go Whiskeytown!

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