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.

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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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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