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Ryan’s Raleigh: “Faithless Street” is no more

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 11.46.18 AMI have always found it quite amusing that the real-life “Faithless Street” — one of the actual places where Ryan Adams lived in Raleigh during Whiskeytown’s early days, where events transpired that would turn up in songs on the band’s 1996 full-length debut Faithless Street — was actually right next to a place literally called Hope. Back then, he was living in the neighborhood adjacent to NC State University; an old rental house located on Logan Court, at the corner of Logan and Hope Street, just off the Hillsborough Street strip and about a block away from Sadlack’s.

But alas, time marches on, there’s no stopping progress and so on. As with Sadlack’s, the Brewery, the Velvet Cloak and so many other landmarks from Raleigh’s 1990s-vintage Whiskeytown era, the wrecking ball has struck again. Below is what the block where Ryan used to live looks like now, no doubt on its way to being transformed into another faceless residential/retail development. I guess there’s just too much money to be made for it to be otherwise, but it still kind of breaks my heart to see this happen — again and again and again…

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Chris Stamey: Lucky 13 for the American Music Series

20180321_200029You can work on a book for months (or years) and it’s still kind of an abstraction — nothing more than a collection of computerized pixels. And even though we live in a digital world nowadays, I’m still enough of an old-school creature to where a book doesn’t feel real to me until there’s a physical copy I can hold in my hand. So it’s always a satisfying moment when a box of a new American Music Series title shows up on my doorstep. Here we have our 13th and latest book, Chris Stamey’s fantastic new memoir “A Spy in the House of Loud: New York Songs and Stories.” Speaking as a longtime fan, I am beyond proud and thrilled to have this one in the series.

The “official” publication date isn’t until April 15, but you should be able to find “A Spy in the House of Loud” in better bookstores already. Chris is already out there working it, including an entertaining South by Southwest panel recently where he appeared alongside some of his New York peers to tell stories and share memories about the old days at CBGB way back when.

There’s also a Spotify playlist of songs covered in the book. And Chris has some bookstore readings coming up, too. If you’re in the Raleigh vicinity, please come to Quail Ridge Books at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 15, for an event where Chris will read a few passages and play a few songs with his dB’s cohort Peter Holsapple, among others. I’ll be there as well, in the role of guest interviewer for the Q&A session.

Chris will also do another music/reading event at Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books on April 28; and there’s a May 12 performance in Winston-Salem involving reunions of some of the 1960s-vintage hometown acts he wrote about in the book.

 

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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.

(Laughter)

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

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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:

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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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