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.

Guy walks into a bar and requests Whiskeytown…

LoseringLike a lot of people in my world, Elliott Humphries is a big Ryan-Adams-by-way-of-Whiskeytown fan. He’s played a number of my book-related events in recent years, and he also brought a “lost” song of Ryan’s to life. So I’d say his bonafides are pretty much impeccable.

Anyway, Elliott was playing this past Sunday night at downtown Raleigh’s Berkeley Cafe, which is not only (a) the first place I ever interviewed Ryan, an incident recounted in the preface to “Losering”; but also (b) a joint that is now owned and operated by a few regulars from Sadlack’s, the establishment where Whiskeytown formed way back in 1994. Elliott sent along this exchange he had with some random attendee who showed up asking for…well, just read it.

Guy: Can you play some Whiskeytown?

Everyone in the bar: Stops what they’re doing.

Me: Hey man. Are you from around here?

Guy: Nope. I’m from New Jersey.

Me: Well, what if I told you the P.A. I’m playing through as well as the bar in this establishment came from one of the first places that ever gave Ryan a shot at music?

Guy: What?

Me: All this stuff came from a place called Sadlack’s, which used to be over on Hillsborough Street. That was where Ryan met Skillet and Caitlin and formed Whiskeytown, while working there.

Everyone in the bar: He sure didn’t work there long (laughter)

Me: You see, Ryan hasn’t graced his home state with his presence since 2005. He is a…polarizing figure around here. Furthermore, for you to walk in here and request a guy like me to play Whiskeytown is kind of like walking into a New York deli and ordering a pizza.


Me: But I will gladly play you some Whiskeytown.

Some stuff you just can’t make up.

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Mapping the Drive-By Truckers


Drive-By Truckers. Photo by Danny Clinch.

Ever since the American Music Series began, one act has been pretty much at the top of my subject wish-list: Drive-By Truckers, one of the greatest American rock bands going. I’ve been a major Truckers fan going all the way back to 2001’s Southern Rock Opera and they’ve become nothing but more important since then, emerging in recent years as a major progressive voice. It’s high time they were the subject of one of our books. And after a false start or two, I do believe we have the Drive-By Truckers book the world needs on the way.

The author is Stephen Deusnera critic whose byline has appeared in Pitchfork, Stereogum, The Bluegrass Situation, Uncut and numerous other publications. He’s someone I’ve read and admired for years, and not just because he knows his way around Ryan Adams’ catalog. Based on the brilliant proposal he put together for “Heathens: Travels Through the New South with the Drive-By Truckers,” which traces the band’s history by mapping out many of the places where their songs take place, I think he’s just the writer to tackle the Truckers’ story.

Stephen was born and raised in McNary County, Tenn., a locale that serves as the setting for a number of Drive-By truckers songs — most notably 2010’s “The Wig He Made Her Wear,” a song based on a real-life story that happened literally next door to the house where he grew up. He’s also been writing about the Truckers for close to a decade and a half, starting with an 8.4 Pitchfork review of their 2004 masterpiece The Dirty South, in the process becoming fully immersed in their milieu as well as their music.

“I have my own complex personal history with the South,” he says. “I recognize the people who populate their songs, because they’re the people I grew up with, went to school with, attended church with. But I’m also an expatriate who has lived nearly half of my life outside the South, which has complicated my perspective on the place I still call home. I’m not one to romanticize it, and I work to look past the mythology of the South to see the very real place beyond.”

It’s very early in the process, so we don’t have a firm publication date just yet, but this is one I’m genuinely excited about. I can’t wait.


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You heard the man: Listen to Ryan Adams

As we’ve covered before, Ryan Adams superfans are a very generous lot — the man’s music just seems to attract those kind of people, which makes his fan universe a great thing to be a part of. And Thom Bennett stands out as a capital fellow who puts cool things out into the world to share. Like the two batches of cool little illustrations he sent my way; they both showed up in the mail, unbidden and unexpected, a terrific surprise. Thanks, man!20180117_210744


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American Music Series: We wanna take you higher

UTPressLogoWhen the American Music Series first started up in 2012, there were two co-editors — my old chum Peter Blackstock, and me — working with Casey Kittrell at University of Texas Press. Peter and I functioned as frontline gatekeepers, trying to coordinate authors and subjects with Casey as in-house acquisitions editor, and I think we got the series off to a solid start with books about Dwight Yoakam, Merle Haggard, Flatlanders and (ahem) Ryan Adams.

But then Peter’s career circumstances changed drastically when the Austin American-Statesman hired him as music critic. Austin is Peter’s hometown and this is his dream job, so I was thrilled for him, of course. But the Statesman’s music beat proved to be so all-consuming that Peter had to bow out of the AMS co-editorship in 2014, leaving Casey and me to carry on as best we could.

We’ve done our best to push things forward and diversify the series beyond its original Americana focus, with books about Madonna, Chrissy Hynde, Mary J. Blige and (coming next spring) Chris Stamey. But it’s been clear for quite some time that moving up to the next level was going to take new blood on the editorial side of things, which I’m delighted to say that we now have.

UT Press announced this week that two new American Music Series editors have signed on: Jessica Hopper, whose books include 2015’s “The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic”; and California State University professor Oliver Wang, author of 2015’s “Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay Area.” Both have super-impressive credentials beyond the books they’ve written, and they’re already at work on extending the series’ stylistic reach even further. As Jessica puts it:


Welcome aboard, y’all. Let’s do this.

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Best review ever of Ryan Adams’ “Prisoner”

Forget every other review of Ryan Adams’ latest album Prisoner, including mine — here’s the best review you’ll find anywhere. It’s by Joshua Kirk, a young man who has reviewed Ryan’s work before in his “Album of the Day” series. I love it, and you will too, so check this out. Well worth the half-hour it lasts.


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Chris Stamey spies on the house of loud

CSspyIt’s been kind of a long and winding road, involving a title change — but Chris Stamey’s book is officially in the pipeline as the next title up in the American Music Series. The book’s final, full title is “A Spy in the House of Loud: New York Songs and Stories,” and it’s due out next spring on University of Texas Press.

This will be the 13th book in the series, going back to 2012. And as a long-time dB’s fanatic, I could not be more thrilled to have the co-leader of one of my all-time favorite bands be a part of it. Dig the cover here, and look for “A Spy in the House of Loud” in stores in April 2018.


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Rhiannon Giddens walks the line, to a MacArthur “Genius Grant”

“Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives,” our latest offering from the American Music Series, is a book I’m proud to have helped bring to light. Overseen by the great writer/editor Holly Gleason (who did a fantastic job with matching up writers and subjects), it’s a wonderful collection of lovely and amazing essays about some of the most important artists in the Americana universe. And one of its best essays is about rising superstar Rhiannon Giddensthe superhumanly talented singer, dancer, actress and activist. Penned by Caroline Randall Williams, the essay is titled “Calling Back: A Gift Past the Songs” and it’s a pitch-perfect evocation of Giddens’ sound and spirit:

It almost seems as though Giddens takes everything good, anything she likes, from the American musical milieu — the bent blue notes, the grassy strings, the lament in the back of the throat that transcends borders of time or space. She takes these things and renders them, through her, one new American country sound.

I’ve had the privilege of watching Giddens conjure that magic for a dozen years now, going back to when her Carolina Chocolate Drops were a local band in my neck of the woods taking their first tentative steps into the world. She has since taken the world by storm, winning a Grammy Award and the Steve Martin Prize — and today, the incredible honor of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.” Check the story on that here; and for an illuminating and poetic portrayal of Giddens’ music, art and life, get “Woman Walk the Line.”



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Hard luck Ryan Adams stories

This listing from Craigslist in Houston sounds like a scenario Ryan Adams might have sketched out during the Whiskeytown days, as an onstage introduction to “Drank Like a River.”

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Whiskeytown: Still clearing the room

Jeff Wall calls himself BigDumbHick — and while he may be large and rurally inclined, I’m here to tell you that he sure as hell ain’t dumb. Jeff is a right fine singer/songwriter as well as an enjoyably thoughtful presence on social media, whether holding forth about music or the hard-headed dumbassery running amok in America these days. And last night, he checked in with a fairly hilarious audition recap that sounds like a scene straight out of “Losering.” Part of that is below.

Good to see that, two decades later, Whiskeytown’s wild and crazy mythology lives on.



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Sadlack’s: Traces remain, hiding in plain sight

LoseringIt’s coming up on four years since Sadlack’s, the legendary Raleigh watering hole where Ryan Adams formed the first version of Whiskeytown way back in 1994, was shut down and bulldozed to make way for a hotel. It’s part of a relentless march of “progress” in which more and more of Raleigh’s funky Whiskeytown-era landmarks covered in “Losering” have fallen to the wrecking ball.

I know, time marches on and there’s little point in lamenting those old corner stores we’ve lost. Still, I miss ’em. And if you know where to look, you’ll find a cool tribute to Sadlack’s a mile and a half from where it once stood — at downtown Raleigh’s Berkeley Cafe, an establishment co-owned by a couple of Sadlack’s regulars (and also the first place I ever interviewed Ryan way back when).

Although the Berkeley’s upstairs back patio is smaller than the old Sadlack’s outdoor space, it definitely has a similar vibe in which you feel like the spirit lives on, especially when they have live music. And as a marker signifying where it all went down, these two street signs in the rafters serve as a reminder.

Sadlack’s stood at the corner of Enterprise and Hillsborough streets, after all


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