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.

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:

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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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“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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