Posts Tagged With: Ashes & Fire

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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Ryan Adams picks up more Grammy glory

Grammy57Grammy Award nominations are being announced today, rolled out a few at a time on Twitter this morning before the full list is posted at 2 p.m. Eastern Time — and our man Ryan Adams is already up for two. Ryan Adams has been nominated for Best Rock album, while “Gimme Something Good” has been nominated for Best Rock Song.

This marks Ryan’s first multi-nomination year since 2002, when he picked up two nods for 2001’s Gold (Rock Album and Male Rock Vocal) and a third for his contribution to that year’s Hank Williams tribute album Timeless, “Lovesick Blues” (Male Country Vocal). He was also nominated for his 2003 cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” in the category of Solo Rock Vocal Performance; and producer Glyn Johns also picked up a nomination for Ryan’s 2011 Ashes & Fire album, as Best Engineered Non-Classical Album.

But for all that, Ryan has yet to win a Grammy and I’d say he’s not likely to win this go-round, either, given who he’s up against: Black Keys, Jack White, Beck and Paramore for song; and U2, Tom Petty, Black Keys and Beck for album. Black Keys look like early odds-on favorites in both categories.

Ryan Adams might well pick up another nod or two, so I’ll update as events warrant. The Grammys will be presented on Feb. 8.

UPDATE (2 p.m.): The complete nominations list is out and “Gimme Something Good” is also up for Best Rock Performance; which brings him to three for this year. But given that he’s up against a lot of the same acts — Beck, Black Keys and Jack White again, as well as Arctic Monkeys — I’m afraid he’s just as much of a longshot to win this one, too. Based on what he just posted, Ryan seems to agree:

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Ryan Adams debuts at No. 4

Whatever overall long-term critical consensus emerges on the new Ryan Adams album, this much is already certain: It represents a new U.S. chart peak for Ryan. The album sold a healthy 45,000 copies in its first week to debut at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 album-sales chart for Sept. 27 — right between R&B singer Jhene Aiko at No. 3 and country singer Lee Bruce at No. 5.

Reaching No. 4 represents a three-spot jump beyond the No. 7 peak Ryan had with both 2011’s Ashes & Fire and 2007’s Easy Tiger.


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Ryan Adams wants something good — is that so wrong?

DRAGSGClose to a year later than most everyone in the DRA blogosphere expected (including me), Ryan Adams will apparently have his first new full-length album since 2011’s Ashes & Fire coming out this fall. Definitive details about this long-awaited followup remain sketchy, since most of the news that’s out there right now consists of different music blogs citing each other as sources without anything “official” from Ryan or his management. But here’s about the most detailed item I’ve seen so far, which cites Sept. 9 as release date for the self-titled Ryan Adams through Blue Note Records.

Preceding the album is a single, “Gimme Something Good,” due for release on July 1. I wish I could say I find it great, but…I’m afraid “Gimme Something Good” sounds more like a riff in search of a song than anything that will rank highly in Ryan’s catalog. It’s not bad, with a feel similar to the old Stevie Nicks/Tom Petty hit “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, thanks to the distinctive keyboard wash of longtime Petter sideman Benmont Tench (on whose recent solo album Ryan also played).  But so far it’s not rising beyond the level of workmanlike for me, and the lyrics certainly imply an unpromising sense of ennui on Ryan’s part:

I can’t talk
My mind is so blank
So I’m going for a walk
I’ve got nothing left to say…

Obviously, your mileage may vary, and here’s a fan-made video from the Ryan Adams Superfan page on Facebook; give it a listen and see what you think. Meantime, maybe it will grow on me…

ADDENDA (8/12-13/2014): Here is Ryan’s own “Gimme Something Good” video — starring Elvira! And here’s an explanation for why he didn’t put out an album in 2013, as expected: At great cost, he scrapped last year’s model. And here he is playing “Gimme Something Good” on Jimmy Fallon.

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Ryan Adams and Ethan Johns don’t reach too far

EthanJThere’s still no definitive word on when Ryan Adams’ next album might emerge — maybe October, maybe not. But in the meantime, Ryan’s longtime mate Ethan Johns is releasing his first album under his own name this summer, If Not Now Then When? Ethan is one of Ryan’s collaborators of longest standing, having produced Whiskeytown’s 2001 swan song Pneumonia as well as multiple albums from Ryan’s solo catalog. His father Glynn Johns also produced Ryan’s 2011 album Ashes & Fire.

As for Ethan’s record, Ryan produced and played bass and drums on the first single, “Don’t Reach Too Far,” which they recorded at Ryan’s Pax Am Studios. It’s a stomping garage-rocker with a pulse along the lines of the Van Morrison/Them chestnut “Gloria,” and it looks like that might be Ryan playing bass in the tres-psychedelic video, too. Ethan explained more about how “Don’t Reach Too Far” came to be in a statement:

The recording was completely unplanned. Ryan and I were hanging at his studio in LA and I literally had books of songs on the table. This one came to the surface – a song birthed from a stream of consciousness. I had only ever sung it 3 times – once when I wrote it, and twice in the studio. Ryan kept the second take. It was so immediate – the energy was flying! Ryan just caught it right there and then – kind of like an instamatic photograph. If punk was invented by cowboys in Texas and beamed to a Sears and Roebuck reel to reel in a garage in Long beach in 1963, it might have sounded like this…

That also sounds a lot like the freewheeling, off-the-cuff vibe that prevailed as Ethan was producing Ryan’s first solo album, 2000’s Heartbreaker; see chapter 12 of “Losering” for more on that. And look for If Not Now Then When? on July 30, on Ethan’s own Three Crows Records.

ADDENDUM (5/24/13): Here’s video from Ethan’s album, for the song “Whip-Poor-Will.” Ryan’s name is in the credits, and it sounds like he might be one of the backup vocalists.

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Ryan Adams’ new album will be out in time for Halloween

Ever since word got out about Ryan Adams making his next album, I’ve been dying to hear it. And while that probably won’t happen for a while yet, at least there is a target date. Direct Current reports Oct. 15 as the release date for the still-untitled followup to 2011’s Ashes & Fire. Consider it circled on my calendar. Below is the item.

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ADDENDUM (5/7/13): Not so fast. Alas, for whatever it’s worth, Ryan himself says this report is premature and that the album is not yet ready for release (even though there were reports that it was already finished way back in February). After Relix-associated JamBands.com also picked up this item about the release date, Ryan posted the following on Twitter at 7:14 p.m. Tuesday:

Hey Relix, sorry folks but that is false info. There is no release date for a new album. Still writing. Nothing to report yet.

Well, we’ll see. Meanwhile, Drat…

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Rating Ryan’s catalog, top to bottom

StereogumListSo indications are that Ryan Adams will finally have the followup to 2011’s Ashes & Fire coming out sometime this year. An in-the-studio picture featuring keyboardist Benmont Tench and other players from Ryan’s circle has been making the online rounds; and the fansite Mega-Superior-Gold reports that the album is done, with A&F producer Glyn Johns again overseeing production.

Obviously, it’s impossible to predict where this still-to-be-titled album will rank in Ryan’s overall ouvre. But before everyone starts listening to the new one and assessing it, I’ve been meaning to do a post ranking Ryan’s catalog to date, inspired in part by a Stereogum listing from last year and a recent thread on the Ryan Adams Superfans Facebook page. Like Stereogum, I’ve limited this to officially released full-length studio albums only, and I also didn’t bother with the obvious metal-leaning stinkbombs Orion and The Finger’s We Are Fuck You (both tied for dead last, if you must know). Unlike Stereogum, however, I’m including Whiskeytown’s catalog — because that still stands as Ryan’s best work in my book, and I don’t feel like his career makes sense without it. But that’s just me.

1 — Strangers Almanac (1997). “Losering” includes a chronological discography, in which I write of Strangers, “All roads lead here.” Really, nothing else comes close to this sign of the times for Ryan, Whiskeytown  and the scene he came out of. I freely admit that maybe you Had To Be There for this to resonate as strongly as it does for me. But mark my words: Decades from now, this will be the record of his that people still come back to.

2 — Faithless Street (1996). Beloved kid-brother sidekick to Strangers, Whiskeytown’s Faithless Street is all the more wonderful for its raggedy flaws. The sound of youthful promise, rendered in an old barfly voice.

3 — Heartbreaker (2000). Ryan’s life and band were collapsing around him when he made his first solo album, at a time when he was wondering if he’d have to go back to the world of dayjobs. But Heartbreaker rose above the angst and trauma of its circumstances to stand as an unequivocal triumph. Another prediction: Give it enough time, and Heartbreaker will someday outsell Gold.

4 — Demolition (2002). Most of  Ryan’s hardcore fans take their cue from Ryan’s disavowal of this odds-and-sods compilation and dismiss it (and Stereogum also ranked it his third-worst). Nevertheless, it’s my favorite of his major-label solo works; I’ve gotten a lot more enjoyment out of it than I have from Gold, I’ll tell you that — and “Dear Chicago” never fails to stun.

5 — Cold Roses (2005). It’s funny to recall the smack that young Ryan used to talk about the Grateful Dead back in the day, because this plays like a direct descendant of American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead. Mellow and intermittently superb — but, yes, over-long. While super-fans are aghast at the notion of pruning its two-disc/18-song length, I still maintain that it could have been the basis of a single masterpiece album culled from the three he put out in 2005. I expect this kid would also disagree. But it’s all good.

6 — Pneumonia (2001). A grand pop experiment, and the high points are as great as anything Ryan has ever done with or without Whiskeytown. Ultimately, however, Pneumonia is a half-successful album that just doesn’t hang together, and some of it is downright half-assed (see: “Paper Moon”). Had the original 1999 version come out, that would rate a notch higher.

7 — Rural Free Delivery (1997). Released as equal parts contractual obligation and revenge by Mood Food Records (the independent label Whiskeytown left to go to the majors), RFD displays exactly as much care in its execution and packaging as you’d expect — as in, almost none. And yet the spark of these 1994 recordings can’t be denied, especially the four tracks comprising Whiskeytown’s 1995 debut EP. I also still love the countrypolitan take on Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown.”

8 — Love Is Hell (2003-2004). Where shit gets real, with an album that more than lives up to its title. Ryan was in a particularly dark place when he made this; and while it’s quite good, the obvious pain makes for a difficult listen. Love Is Hell remains an album I respect more than enjoy, but it certainly has its enthusiasts.

9 — Ashes & Fire (2011). I really wanted this to be spectacularly great, and for a time I think I fooled myself into believing it’s better than it really is (partly because it was such a vast improvement over its 2008 predecessor, the ultra-dreary Cardinology). With the benefit of hindsight, I’d call it a return toward form rather than all the way to form; a good record, but still not quite all the way there. Lovely as it is, I find it a touch too subdued. But “Lucky Now,” which strikes a perfect closing note in the movie “This Is 40,” is his best song in eons. There’s room to grow here, and hope springs eternal. I can’t wait to hear his next record, whenever it emerges.

10 — Rock N’ Roll (2003).  Though it was well-reviewed upon release, Rock N’ Roll has acquired a taint over the years. Most DRA purists would put it near rock-bottom (and Stereogum has it rated his second-worst; it also figures prominently here), but I think it’s better than that — Ryan’s new-wave tribute to Gold’s classic-rock homage, and the album he delivered when his label complained that Love Is Hell was too dour. I initially preferred RNR to LIH, but now I must admit that the latter has aged better.

11 — Easy Tiger (2007). To me, Easy Tiger feels like more of a compilation than Demolition, bouncing as it does between widely varying styles. But the high points, “Everybody Knows” and “Off Broadway,” stand among Ryan’s best songs. On the downside is “Halloweenhead” (ugh). And I still die a little whenever I hear “These Girls,” the abomination he rewrote “Hey There, Mrs. Lovely” into (go find the original version on the Destroyer bootleg instead). I must confess I kind of hold that against the rest of the record.

12 — Jacksonville City Nights (2005). I so wanted to love this. Still do, and JCN definitely has its defenders — Stereogum gives it a bronze medal while my fellow DRA obsessive Sharon insisted I give it another chance when I wrote dismissively of it. So I did; but alas, this album still just feels a little off to me. All the elements are in place, except for Ryan, who sounds like he wants to get back but can’t find the way. He sounds almost manic on “The End,” a song that still makes me cringe going on eight years later.

13 — Gold (2001). I once saw someone on Twitter call Gold “forced, like date night in a loveless marriage,” which I’d say hits the nail on the head. I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve had about this record over the years. It would make my life ever so much easier if I just liked the damned thing — and Lord knows, I’ve tried. But even though it’s his commercial high point, I still find Gold to be a self-indulgent mess with some great songs (especially “When The Stars Go Blue”) lost amid too much dreck (especially “Tina Toledo’s Street Walkin’ Blues”), made all the more frustrating by all the great songs he’d passed over to do this. Oh well. You say Gold, I say Strangers, let’s call the whole thing off.

14 — III/IV (2010). Outtakes from the period that yielded up Easy Tiger, and it has some decent individual songs. But I’d say it’s still for completists only. Being one of those myself, I gave it a more favorable review than it probably deserved upon release.

15 — Cardinology (2008). An album I really have to struggle to get through, because it feels absolutely stillborn to me; just sort of generic, some pretty songs here and there — but none of it sticks, which was worrisome because it left me wondering if Ryan had lost it completely. The first time I heard Ashes & Fire, I was almost ill with relief because it was such a huge improvement over this.

16 — 29 (2005). Yeah yeah yeah, it’s a concept album about Ryan’s 20s, with one song for each year. So what? While 29 has its proponents, I’ve always found it uninviting enough to make Love Is Hell feel like Up With People. My first thought upon hearing it was: All the amazing stuff he’s got in the vaults, and he puts out this? The years haven’t softened that opinion, either.

ADDENDUM: There must be something in the air because a writer named Jeremy Winograd is also grading Ryan’s catalog. He seems to write about Ryan quite frequently (and he was also kind enough to review “Losering”). His response to this list:

Can’t say I agree with all of your list — I think you overrate the Whiskeytown stuff a bit, though I can’t say I blame you for that, and I would definitely put Jacksonville City Nights and Easy Tiger higher. But like I said in my 29 review, part of the fun of Ryan’s catalog is that nobody seems to completely agree which stuff is good and which stuff sucks! Wading through 900 mediocre songs to get to the 100 great ones is all part of the experience, I guess.

SECOND ADDENDUM (9/14/14): Here’s another DRA catalog ranking.

THIRD ADDENDUM (2/21/17): Still another DRA catalog ranking.

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Grammy report: Ryan Adams’ “Ashes & Fire” comes up empty

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I was hoping that Ryan would tangentially win his first Grammy Award Sunday. While Ryan wasn’t nominated himself, his 2011 album Ashes & Fire was up for “Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.” But as I feared might happen, the Grammy instead went to the Yo-Yo Ma-led all-star album The Goat Rodeo Sessions during the pre-telecast portion of the program. Oh well. Ryan has been directly nominated four times in years past without winning, but none of those were surprising given the competition he was up against; this was one I figured might have a shot. One of these years…

Meantime, I’ll be live-blogging this year’s Grammy ceremony, starting around the telecast time of 8 p.m. Sunday. Do drop in.

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Ryan Adams’ “Lucky Now” plays out “This Is 40”

ThisIs40When I was in the process of finishing up “Losering” in the fall of 2011, Ryan’s Ashes & Fire album arrived like a gift from the heavens. I was writing a book focused on Ryan’s early years, and a recurrent theme of the closing stretch was his literal disconnection from that time. Then here came Ashes, on which Ryan sounded more like his younger self than he had in years. Best of all was this opening couplet from the album’s first single:

I don’t remember, were we wild and young?
All that’s faded into memory.
I feel like somebody I don’t know.
Are we really who we used to be?
Am I really who I was?

That’s “Lucky Now,” which tied up the whole “Losering” story with a nice little bow; I almost felt like I should send Ryan a thank-you note. But I settled for writing that “Lucky Now” put me in mind of Ryan going back in time with one of Charles Dickens’ Christmas-eve spirits to watch his own shadow stumble down Raleigh’s Hillsborough Street strip — only to stop short of the darkness and turn toward the light:

And love can mend your heart,
But only if you’re lucky now.

“Lucky Now” also gets prominent play in director Judd Apatow’s new romantic comedy “This Is 40,” a movie featuring an onscreen appearance by Ryan as himself. That was reason enough for me to see the film, but it was still a mixed experience. “This Is 40” doesn’t tell a story so much as overwhelm the viewer with endless wisecracks, banter and over-the-top assholery, much of which made me cringe even as I laughed out loud. While it’s likable enough, this isn’t the sort of film that sticks with you. The characters never get any deeper than paper-thin, and Apatow doesn’t seem to have anything particularly revelatory to say about encroaching middle age. If I were giving it a grade, it would fall somewhere in the B-/C+ range; decent date-night fare, that’s all.

But the Ryan Adams faithful will still want to see “This Is 40” because our hero’s music plays a prominent Greek-chorus role. About 45 minutes in, leads Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann attempt to rekindle the spark of their relationship with a romantic weekend get-away, set to Ryan’s “Shining Through the Dark” (which he played on “Conan” last week). And the movie ends with Rudd and Mann watching Ryan onstage, playing “Lucky Now” as a benediction.

It’s nice — and also a better closing note than the movie deserves.

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Grammy shine for Ryan, sort of

Grammy2013So I was pulling for our man Ryan to get a Grammy nomination, mostly because I figured visibility and attention from that might help attract an eyeball or two in my direction; but also because he’s from North Carolina, and I keep up with my peeps. Anyway, he did turn up in the nominations announced Wednesday night, albeit indirectly. Ryan himself didn’t get nominated — but his 2011 album Ashes & Fire did, in the category of “Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.”

Should Ashes be deemed the winner, the Grammy will go to producer Glyn Johns and mastering engineer Bob Ludwig. Also nominated are albums by Jason Mraz, Rebecca Pidgeon and Melody Gardot, also-rans all; and the Yo-Yo Ma-led all-star album The Goat Rodeo Sessions. In terms of handicapping (and I must confess that I’ve got a less-than-stellar batting average at this), I’d say it will come down to either Ryan or Yo-Yo Ma. Ryan has been nominated four times in years past without ever winning, and it would be funny if his record won a Grammy for someone else.

Tune in Feb. 10, 2013, to find out.

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