Posts Tagged With: Elton John

“Solo Sounds” — Ryan Adams songs as you’ve never heard them

SoloSounds.jpgA few months back, I heard from Scott Ambrose Reilly, an old friend I first met many long eons ago back when he was managing roots-rock madman Mojo Nixon and answering to the name “Bullethead.” Nowadays, he’s involved in a very cool and offbeat new music series called Solo Sounds, which digitally releases cover versions of classic albums with the songs remade as solo instrumentals. His partner is longtime roots-rock god Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, and each Solo Sounds project comes with an unexpected twist — Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours as played on cello, Bob Marley’s Legend on marimba, Squirrel Nut Zippers co-founder Jimbo Mathus rendering the classic 1984 Replacements album Let It Be as solo blues guitar and so forth.

Scott told me they wanted to give Ryan Adams the Solo Sounds treatment with a set of his songs transposed to piano, an instrument Ryan rarely plays. So they came to me for input on which of his albums to cover, and that turned out to be a deceptively hard decision. The obvious choices would have been either Ryan’s 2001 commercial high-water mark Gold, or Whiskeytown’s 1997 magnum opus Strangers Almanac; but somehow neither felt quite right for this. So I suggested a third option, a Ryan Adams album that doesn’t actually exist: 29 Cold Jacksonville Roses.

As recounted in Chapter 16 of “Losering,” 29 Cold Jacksonville Roses is my 2005 mix for Ryan — an imaginary best-of with songs cherrypicked from the three albums he released that year (Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights and 29). Now I realize that the very idea of carving these albums up like this remains the ultimate act of apostasy in some quarters of DRA super-fandom. Nevertheless, I found it a fun exercise to select a track list and running order, imagining what might have been if these songs had been recorded as a single album-length unit.

DRA2005.jpgThanks to Solo Sounds, the Spotify playlist that was 29 Cold Jacksonville Roses now exists as Selections From Ryan Adams’ 2005 Trilogy, an actual unified body of work. The artist is Bette Sussman, a pianist with a long and illustrious resume — that’s her playing piano on Whitney Houston’s 1992 version of  “I Will Always Love You,” which was one of the biggest hits of all time. She shows a spare and elegant touch throughout Selections, beginning with the Cold Roses kickoff “Magnolia Mountain” and ending with 29’s “Night Birds,” and I think these versions have a nicely elegiac feel and a lovely flow from track to track.

Selections From Ryan Adams’ 2005 Trilogy is the third Solo Sounds album that Sussman has recorded, following a set of Elton John’s greatest hits and Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” soundtrack. The project also served as her introduction to Ryan, who she was not at all familiar with before being enlisted to cover his songs.

“That’s one good thing about this project, learning about people like him,” Sussman says. “I’m now a fan of Ryan Adams and I think he’s quite brilliant. Harmonically, this was a little simpler and easier to interpret than something like ‘West Side Story,’ which was about the hardest thing ever. But I really enjoyed learning this material  and putting my spin on his songs.”

The release date is March 24, and you can check out some samples here.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Behind the curtain with “Faded Love”

TimeJumpers

That’s me in the doorway, head down, surrounded by Time Jumpers.

So this Asleep at the Wheel book I co-wrote with Ray Benson, “Comin’ Right at Ya,” will be published in October. But it’s been in the works for a couple of years, since the summer of 2013. Because the subject was participating this time around, it was a lot more fun and less pressurized than “Losering.” Maybe the most appealing aspect of the whole thing was the opportunity it gave me to hang out behind the curtain in Ray’s world for a while. We met up a half-dozen times during 2013 and 2014, so I could interview Ray and associates, and also lurk around watching him work.

One of the most memorable such occasions was August 2013, a rendezvous with Asleep at the Wheel at the home of Vince Gill and Amy Grant. The Gill-Grant estate was just another super-nice mansion in the good part of Nashville — except, of course, for distinguishing features like the putting green in the yard, the dozens of Grammy Awards lining the shelves, the framed letters from Elton John and other celebrities hanging on the bathroom walls and the first-class recording studio in the house.

StillKing-DIEThe day I was there, Ray and company were working in Gill’s studio with his Western swing group the Time Jumpers to record “Faded Love,” which appears on the new Asleep at the Wheel album Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. I got a souvenir out of it, too, a brief appearance near the beginning of the behind-the-scenes “Faded Love” video. In the screengrab above, that’s me sitting on the steps in the doorway. If memory serves, I kept my head down for the cameras because I somehow thought that would make me seem less obtrusive.

But I’ll tell you what, I sure did lift up my head when Time Jumpers vocalist Dawn Sears began to sing that day. I hadn’t been familiar with Dawn before, but she was just jaw-droppingly great – maybe the best singer I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing up-close. Sadly, Dawn died of cancer this past December. But you get a sense of what a powerhouse vocalist she was from the video. I wrote a bit more about Dawn and the “Faded Love” video here; and also about the rest of the Still the King album here.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ed Sheeran is gonna throw it back to you

EdSheeranOn Twitter the other day, I saw someone pose a rhetorical question: Was Ryan Adams ahead of his time or is it just coincidence that 1000 bands sound like him now? That’s pretty funny, given that the rap on Ryan has always been that he’s too retro and/or little more than the sum of his influences. And yet he has kept on keepin’ on, building up a body of work and a presence to the point that it seems like every emotional singer-songwriter who comes along nowadays is “RIYL Ryan Adams.” I must see that description several times a week, at least.

One such act following in Ryan’s wake is Ed Sheeran, a young singer-songwriter who is still more popular in his native England than in America (although touring as Taylor Swift’s opening act this year should raise his U.S. profile a good bit). Oddly enough, it almost seems like he’s shadowing Ryan. Sheeran was on the Grammy Awards telecast last month playing with Elton John, one of Ryan’s big fans and benefactors; and while Sheeran has yet to cover a Ryan song as far as I know, he did cover Oasis’ “Wonderwall” — a song Ryan also covered (and earned a Grammy nomination for) a decade ago on Love Is Hell.

So here, give ’em a comparison. Which version do you like better: Ed’s, or Ryan’s? I don’t pretend to be an impartial observer here, and I do find both quite pleasant. Nevertheless, I do feel like Ryan’s version has…more there there. Ed’s version is nice enough, a pretty rendition of a song I like; it’s almost placid. Meanwhile, Ryan’s “Wonderwall” has more raw emotion, revealing pockets of shell-shocked despair not to be found in either the Oasis original or Sheeran’s cover.

It ain’t easy, being the Next Ryan Adams. But Sheeran appears to be managing: His “Wonderwall” has more than 3.7 million Youtube views.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ryan’s 2013, detailed before it even happens

Magic8BallA friend of mine had a funny idea for “Losering” promotion — some tongue-in-cheek “predictions” for how Ryan Adams might spend 2013. So with the aid of a crystal and Magic 8 Ball, I put together a list at his behest. Alas, things fell through with the magazine that was to run them, and they never saw the light of print. But since I hate for anything to go to waste, I present them to you below. They are quite silly, yes; still, maybe not all that far removed for what our favorite Scorpio might be up to this year…

Just because Ryan Adams didn’t release an album of new material in 2012, that doesn’t mean he was musically idle. Along with putting out a crazy huge 15-disc live box set and dropping twitter hints about getting started on a new record, Adams spent time in the studio with his wife Mandy Moore, electronic superstar deadmau5, The Lemonheads, D Generation, Butch Walker and who knows who else. None of those recordings have surfaced, but all the collaborations got us to thinking about what worlds the alt-country king might be looking to conquer in 2013. Our fearless predictions:

* After Norah Jones introduces Adams to her half-sister Anoushka Shankar at the Grammy Awards, he takes up sitar and heads in a more grandiose direction, enlisting the Polyphonic Spree and Mormon Tabernacle Choir for what he describes as a “Zen concept album that will bring Twinkies back.” The project collapses when they can’t work out the logistics of Phil Spector handling production by phone from prison.

* Adams’ pal Elton John introduces him to Liza Minnelli at the Oscars, and they hit it off. With Minnelli’s encouragement, Adams is emboldened to make his Broadway debut playing her signature role – as Sally Bowles in a revival of “Cabaret.” But the show doesn’t make it out of previews.

* Inspired by his deadmau5 collaboration, Ryan puts on his DJ Reggie hat and convinces the surviving members of Run-DMC to let him join as replacement deejay for the late Jam-Master Jay. To great acclaim, Run-DRA makes its debut at the Coachella Festival. But in-fighting leads to a lineup implosion before a scheduled headlining slot at Bonnaroo.

* Declaring that he wants to take his native North Carolina’s “FIRST IN FLIGHT” license-plate motto to its logical conclusion, Adams applies to NASA with the intention of becoming a space-shuttle pilot. Upon discovering that the shuttle program ended in 2011, he puts his disappointment aside and goes to Plan B: applying for a pilot’s job at Pan Am Airlines. Um…

* While working with Cameron Crowe on a soundtrack song, Adams meets Ennio Morricone, the legendary spaghetti-western film-score composer. Discussions ensue about Morricone and Adams working together on a soundtrack to the movie version of Adams’ yet-to-be-published novel, “Bastard Diaries of Los Angeles.” The project stalls out when nobody can find Clint Eastwood’s phone number.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.