Posts Tagged With: Cardinals

Ryan Adams in Blurt: A stone-cold classic

So the new album Ryan Adams came out yesterday, accompanied by the obligatory press blitz as well as some goofy infomercial work by Ryan and friends. Both the album and Ryan’s latest round of live shows have drawn generally (but certainly not unanimously) positive reviews. And Ryan himself stirred the pot with a lengthy Stereogum Q&A interview in which he referred to his former band the Cardinals as “that fucking shit sandwich,” causing much angst among more avid fans of his late-period work.

BlurtRyanAs I’ve said before, this should not surprise anyone because Ryan seems to be one of those artists who needs to destroy the past before he can move on from it. Whether it’s former bands or his own catalog, he goes out of his way to disown everything after the fact. Not too many years ago, he was talking about the Cardinals as his musical soulmates; but now that they’re in his rearview mirror, Ryan holds up his current band The Shining as his latest end-all-and-be-all. Nevertheless, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that he’ll one day dismiss The Shining in similarly poetic terms.

Meanwhile, “Losering” is prominently referenced in a couple of stories that have come down the pike this go-round. First is a timeline-type listicle on vulture.com, “A Brief History of Ryan Adams, From Vices to Voice Mails,” which quotes from the book (with credit to the book as source, which I appreciate). And second is this admirably fair Ryan Adams review in Blurt magazine by my pal Fred Mills, who thinks a lot more of the new album than I do. But Fred makes the case for it well enough to help convince me that I should keep listening, and so I shall.

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More from the super-fans: Jennifer John Bickel

Publishing “Losering” has brought me into contact with some pretty hardcore super-fans from Ryan’s world, which hasn’t been as fraught as I’d feared it might be (at least not yet). So far, it’s been a pleasure, even when we disagree. One super-fan I’ve had no disagreements with is Jennifer John Bickel, who I met on last weekend’s Texas sojourn via Dean Dauphinais — she was one of the friends he bought along to both readings I did down there. At the San Antonio reading, Jennifer cited Ryan’s Love Is Hell as her favorite album of all time. And over dinner, as we discussed our mutual affection for the hilarious website cakewrecks.com, it emerged that she’s enough of a fan to have made a cake for Ryan and the Cardinals back in 2009. Check out her handiwork below, which looks both delicious and too pretty to eat…

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Old 97s: too far down the road to care

When alternative-country was hitting its mid-’90s stride, two of its leading lights were the Old 97s and Whiskeytown. And for a time, the bands were on very friendly terms.

“Ryan was such a sweet kid at first,” 97s frontman Rhett Miller said when I interviewed him for “Losering” last year. “I met him when he opened for the Old 97s with the Freight Whalers, and he might have been 18. We could tell he had something special. So we became friends, and they were getting signed at the same time. He’d call up and ask what I thought about different deals and offers. It was very friendly. But then we did that No Depression tour, and I think the fact that they had to play before us every night really got under his skin.”

That was the beginning of the for-the-papers “feud” between Whiskeytown and the Old 97s, which you’ll find more about in chapter seven of the book. A decade and a half later, Miller seemed to find the whole thing mystifying and amusing in equal parts.

“I’ve got no hard feelings and he’s obviously very talented,” Miller said of Ryan. “I heard a song of his on the radio, from one of those Cardinals albums, and it was so beautiful. Yeah, he’s got a lot of talent. I hope he figures out how to use it.”

Old 97s are on tour this fall marking the 15-year anniversary of their signpost album, Too Far to Care. The tour plays Saturday night at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro.

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Ryan and Phil: Every picture tells a story, don’t it?

So I got an email yesterday from a “Losering” reader named Kyle Foushee, who provided a nice little puzzle piece from Ryan’s recent history. Chapter 17 of the book recounts  a 2007 show at Red Rocks, in which Ryan went out of his way to avoid interacting with his former bandmate Phil Wandscher (who was opening the show with Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter). But, as documented in several photos, that didn’t stop Ryan from intently watching Wandscher’s performance from the wings. Phil had sent those pictures my way last year; and it turns out that Kyle was the photographer.

“I took them with a simple point-click camera, so the quality isn’t great,” Kyle says now. “But they are clear enough. I actually flew from Charlotte to Denver for the show. I met a friend there, who had befriended Phil while living in Seattle. We naively thought we would be backstage and possibly get to meet Ryan and the Cardinals, Lucinda, Old 97s. Obviously, turns out that did not happen, ha. It was indeed an odd show.”

For those of you reading at home, this falls on pages 186-187.

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Another record?…Pretty please?…

So our man Ryan has spent long stretches of the past few years out of the public eye, uncharacteristically quiet on the music front. There was the breakup of the Cardinals and his Meniere’s Disease, plus who knows what else going on behind the scenes. Ashes & Fire, released one year ago this week, broke a several-year silence — and it had me wondering what might be next, fingers crossed in cautious optimism; A&F seemed like a return to form, the best thing he’d done in eons.

Well, he’s gotten busy, all right. The last few months have brought reports of Ryan producing his wife Mandy Moore; producing and playing drums in the reunited Lemonheads; and working in the studio with Tennis, Liz Phair, Butch Walker and even electronic superstar deadmau5, among others. Which is cool and all, sure, plus the sort of headline fuel that makes the rock-media world go ’round.

Still…I have to admit that I’d rather see Ryan just bear down on another record of his own. And God knows where he’s finding the time, but it appears he might be gearing up to do just that, if his Twitter feed is to be believed. This weekend, Ryan has posted a couple of pictures suggesting that he’s in the midst of pulling together material for a new album, with tantalizing verbiage:

Work. Writing songs.

Sketching the blueprints of my new record. Only a month to go.

Two more new songs today. Damn.

Here’s hoping!

ADDENDUM (2/19/13): Complete list of Ryan’s extracurricular credits.

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Kenny Roby rides again

The story that “Losering” tells goes back about 20 years, which is an eternity in terms of the half-lives of most bands and clubs. And yet I feel strange calling it “history” because the threads extend into the present day, and so many participants are still at it; and I’m not just talking about Ryan. Indeed, it’s still possible to see Kenny Roby, one of Ryan’s best ’90s-era peers, in clubs around the Triangle with some regularity.

Kenny gets mentioned in a couple of places in “Losering” and he’s always been one of my favorite singer-songwriters in this town, starting with his time in an early-’90s band called the Lubricators — a name I still think is stupid (and they never let me forget it after I said so in print way back when). But they did have a saying that made me giggle: Live to lube, lube to live. The Lubricators played amped-up rock with room for hooks, the guitars turned up to “roar,” and they’d moved up to Raleigh from Clemson, S.C. They set up shop in a house on Daisy Street, where Ryan would reside with their roadie/pal Tom Cushman after the band moved out.

Kenny’s next band after the Lubricators broke up was a killer, 6 String Drag. To this day, it disappoints me that 6 String Drag’s rocket-fueled country soul didn’t break big. Kenny’s vocal harmonies with bassist Rob Keller were exquisite; and after they added a horn section for live shows, pretty much no band on earth could touch them. Steve Earle signed 6 String Drag to his label and produced a spectacular album with them, 1997’s High Hat, which I asked Earle about when I interviewed him last year.

“This girl drug me to Atlanta to see Whiskeytown,” Earle said, “and 6 String Drag was opening. I signed them instead. Not that I thought Whiskeytown was bad, 6 String Drag was just more interesting to me and I wish to [expletive] they could’ve lasted. Their record was my favorite we made on that label. They were really special. Had this thing like The Band, where it’s so loose it’s tight, and I liked the way Kenny and Rob sang together. But they were doomed to come apart.”

Alas, High Hat didn’t hit and 6 String Drag dissolved before making another record. But Kenny kept at it with 1999’s Black River Sides (which he recorded with Ryan’s future Cardinals main man Neal Casal) and 2000’s Mercury’s Blues, both reviewed here. In 2000, when I published a novel called “Off The Record,” the aforementioned Holden Richards and I put together a fake fansite for the fictional band in the book. Kenny was kind enough to play along and record some tracks posing as said band, bashed out in a single well-oiled evening. All these years later, I still get a giggle out of  “Band Town” and “Dumb and Number.”

A couple of years after that, Kenny made a stunning album called Rather Not Know that, were there an ounce of justice in this world, would have set him up with a nice Randy Newman-sized career. I’ve written a fair amount about Kenny over the years, and the best story of the bunch is probably this 2003 No Depression feature that came out around the time Rather Not Know was released. Ryan was singing his praises back then, too, telling Rolling Stone that Kenny was “the best songwriter that not enough people have heard yet.” He also gave Roby’s record label a quote:

I knew Kenny in Raleigh, NC, where we both had bands, his was better than mine. We shared a few jobs, the most notably a plumbing job. I have been made to understand this record is partially inspired as the result of his father’s death. Kenny has great internal dialogue concerning his relationship to God and to the more tangible ways of man. I think it’s woven into the fabric of this record in more subtle ways than previous albums. The entire record really does more for any argument to this record’s impact as a great piece of art, but this track is the first track on the album and the one that touches me even when I think I’m not listening. Also he is quite a good dancer apparently.

Unfortunately, the acclaim didn’t turn Kenny’s commercial career into something sustainable and fulltime, leading to a few long-ish stretches of musical inactivity (in public, at least) over the past decade. But he’s back on track with an excellent new album that should be coming out before too long. Kenny has grown tremendously as a singer, and on this new album he pulls off some quiet nuances that were once beyond him; great to hear him recording with horns again, too.

Friday night, he’ll play his first full-band show in Raleigh in more than three years, at the Pour House. Funny thing, the guy running sound for that show will be Jac Cain — who played bass with Kenny in the Lubricators all those years ago.

Like I keep saying, it all connects up, past to present and beyond.

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