Posts Tagged With: Gold

“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.

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Fifteen years of “Gold”

dragoldToday is the 15-year anniversary of one of those Ryan Adams records I sure wish I liked better than I do, Gold. This is the album that was supposed to rocket him to the toppermost of the poppermost back in 2001; and while it didn’t quite accomplish that, it remains his commercial high-water mark. Having written tons and tons about this album over the years, including here as well as Chapter 13 of “Losering,” I don’t feel the need to rehash it all again one more time. But Ryan’s take on Gold and that time of his life is interesting — he published an anniversary note today on Instagram, and it’s worth a read.

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Ryan Adams, April Fools’ Day pinball wizard

AprilFoolFor an April Fools’ Day gag to work, there has to be at least a modicum of plausibility to it. So yeah, on the one hand, the idea of Ryan Adams putting together an album composed entirely of audio snippets from his pinball-machine collection is ridiculous. But on the other hand, given some of the weird-ass stuff Ryan has done in the past (not to mention his love of all things pinball and crazy-prolific nature), this Pinball Blizzard almost seems possible; like something he would’ve done as DJ Reggie, The Shit or one of his many other guises.

Anyway, that’s the joke of this story on the site RiffYou — which promises an album that will “balance Heartbreaker-era melodies, Cold Roses‘ expansiveness and Gold’s eclectic twang-driven explorations, guided and influenced by the noises of arcade games – namely pinball machines.” It also has a faux-quote from Ryan, describing Pinball Blizzard as “so fucked up, I can’t help but love it.”

For those who might be slow on the uptake, there is a helpful April Fool disclaimer at the end.

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Happy birthday, Ryan Adams — 41 years young

Young Ryan may not be so young anymore, but he’s definitely not dumb despite what he says in this Instagram post from the other night (interestingly, he has since deleted the caption). Being the dork that I am, I wonder if this backdrop is the same flag from the cover of his 2001 album Gold. Anyway, to the best bio subject one could ever hope to have, happy birthday in spite of it all. It’s hard to believe you’ve been gone from this part of the world for so long. May your 42nd year be the one in which you discover the meaning of life.

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ADDENDUM (11/5/2016): A year later, Ryan seems relieved to wave bye-bye to 41.

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Fifteen years of “Heartbreaker”

HeartbreakerHere’s another reminder of just how much time has slipped away since the Whiskeytown era: Today marks exactly 15 years since the release of Heartbreaker, Ryan Adams’ first solo album. Even though the band hadn’t “officially” broken up at that point, and its in-limbo album Pneumonia wouldn’t be released until the following May, I’ve still always thought of Heartbreaker as the official end of Ryan’s Whiskeytown period. He was certainly talking about Whiskeytown in the past tense in the No Depression magazine feature I wrote for Heartbreaker’s release. And a year later, the mainstream was in the process of finally discovering Ryan with his second (and inferior, at least to me) solo album Gold.

Here’s a pretty solid track-by-track dissection. I am a little embarrassed to admit that, as noted in chapter 12 of “Losering,” my initial reaction to Heartbreaker at the time was disappointment that it didn’t have any of the astounding material I’d seen Ryan play live during his fall 1999 shows (“Hey There Mrs. Lovely,” “Oh My Sweet Valentine,” “Born Yesterday” and other songs you can find nowadays on bootlegs like Destroyer). But that feeling didn’t last because Heartbreaker was and is extraordinary — a perfect snapshot of Ryan finding himself artistically at a moment when his life and career seemed to be falling apart. I still think it’s the best of his officially released solo albums, and it would have outsold Gold by multiples were there an ounce of justice in this world. At least it’s the top-selling album in the history of Bloodshot Records, so that’s something.

Ryan himself has had some harsh and flippant things to say about Heartbreaker over the years, including this dismissively withering 2006 self-assessment:

If you are a redneck or want to be disappointed with me buy Heartbreaker. But it’s utter shit and I didn’t mean a word of it.

Maybe he really meant that. But Ryan says a lot of things, and I think it matters more that a decade and a half later, he still plays Heartbreaker tunes like “Come Pick Me Up” and “Oh My Sweet Carolina” onstage pretty much every night. And it seems as though his feelings toward Heartbreaker have softened just a bit. In the wee small hours of this morning, Ryan tweeted this:

Happy 15th Anniversary, Heartbreaker!!!

You’re too long, overly earnest & a lil’ wordy but damnit you’re all mine.

That’s fair. So here’s to Heartbreaker — and the ongoing hope that the heartbreak kid has still got another record like that in him.

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Ryan’s “1989” — still coming along

DRA1989A bit more than a week ago, Ryan Adams caused one of the biggest online-media sensations in recent memory (or since his own divorce, anyway) when he took to Twitter to declare that he’s been remaking Taylor Swift’s 1989 album in its entirety — including bonus cuts. At last report, he had just about hit the end of the track list. You can find a summary, with all the online samples released so far, here. I especially like the snippets of “Stay” and “Wildest Dreams.”

Give it a few more days for mixing and detail work, and the whole thing might be done and dusted by the end of this weekend. At which point, we can’t help but wonder: What’s next?

Swift reacted with immediate and enthusiastic endorsement of the project, so some sort of actual release seems likely. Options for that would range from a full-on “official” release with physical product (and think of the gatefold-cover possibilities for an old-school vinyl fetishist like Ryan) to simply giving the songs away online.

If Ryan does choose to release 1989 for real, with money changing hands, it’s easy to imagine the album being a left-field hit, since it hits a perfect sweet spot between Ryan’s rocker cool and Swift’s huge popularity (1989 has sold more than 4 million copies in the U.S., a figure 10 times that of Ryan’s biggest seller, 2001’s Gold). I think there’s every chance DRA 1989 could exceed the 134,000 in U.S. sales of last year’s Ryan Adams — maybe by a lot. But I don’t think it would match the 400,000-plus in sales for Gold, or the 300,000-plus that 2000’s Heartbreaker sold.

Stay tuned!

UPDATE (8/18/2015): Getting close!

ADDENDUM (8/20/2015): Ryan is apparently not the only 1989 fan representing.

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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:

DRAU2

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Old friends: Ryan Adams and Peter Blackstock

RyanPeter

Peter Blackstock, left, and Ryan Adams circa 1997.

So Ryan Adams played an “Austin City Limits” taping Wednesday night down in Texas. Alas, I was not there. But UT Press American Music Series co-editor Peter Blackstock was, reviewing the show for the Austin American-Statesman, and his presence did not go unnoticed from the stage. Ryan spotted Peter in the crowd during his opening solo acoustic set and gave him a shout-out as founder of No Depression magazine while noting that he’s “looking more and more like Jerry Garcia every day.”

Later, Ryan happened to be looking Peter’s way when he yawned, and he called him out on it: “Peter Blackstock, you come to my show and fucking yawn? What the fuck is that?” That led to Ryan inviting him to go jogging the next day (Peter replied via Twitter that he was game; but no word yet on whether or not that happened). And Peter’s name also came up while Ryan was telling stories about NASA and the band Kiss, with Ryan asking if Peter was getting everything down in his notes. At the end of the three-hour show, Ryan singled out Peter to thank him for coming.

As you can see from the picture above, Peter and Ryan go way back, to the mid-1990s Whiskeytown days, when Peter was putting Ryan on his magazine’s cover. It hasn’t always been friendly, especially when Peter unfavorably reviewed Ryan’s 2001 album Gold by likening it to “Pyrite” (inspiring one of Ryan’s more infamous online blowups, as recounted on page 151 of “Losering”). That came up Wednesday night after Ryan played a version of that album’s “When the Stars Go Blue” so beautiful, it reduced at least one person in the audience to tears. Ryan gave the audience member in question, an Austin musician named Nakia, a hug before declaring that Peter “fuckin’ hates that song” and dubbing him “the Austin Music hall monitor.”

A lesser person (me, say) probably would have recounted at least some of this in the show review. But Peter stuck with the music, and you can read his review here. I’ll be curious to see if any of the banter winds up in whatever “ACL” airs, which should show up sometime in 2015. Meanwhile, based on the Twitter exchange below, Ryan and Peter seemed to end the evening on friendly terms.


PeterRyanACL


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Reckoning with Ryan Adams’ new album

It’s complicated
I just don’t love you anymore…

— Ryan Adams, “Am I Safe” (2014)


One thing that writing “Losering” did for me was to underscore the futility of music journalism and criticism, especially album reviews. The book forced me to reconsider release-date-vintage things I’d thought and written about everything from the Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown discography in the harsh light of the present, a process that induced a cringe or two. While I think I was more or less right about most of the records, there were definitely some I had significantly underrated at first (especially Love Is Hell) or thought too much of (Rock N’ Roll). And as I was finishing up the book in the fall of 2011, Ashes and Fire came out and I overrated that one, too. I should not have been surprised; just because I was writing it in a book rather than a newspaper review, that didn’t make my snap judgment any more long-lasting.

Something else “Losering” emphasized was the futility of fandom: the fact that if you follow anybody long enough, they will surely disappoint you. Whether I should feel that way or not, I am disappointed in Ryan. I wish I didn’t feel that way because I hate being That Guy — the dock worker in Liverpool who liked The Beatles during their Cavern Club days but thought they sold out when they went on “Ed Sullivan.” Or the guy in Greenwich Village who thought Bob Dylan should have stuck with old folk songs. Or the dude in Asbury Park who thought Bruce Springsteen’s calling was to stay a bar-band journeyman. So maybe giving up what he had in order to get to where he is now was the right call for Ryan; perhaps his upcoming self-titled album will one day be mentioned in the same breath as Rubber Soul or Blonde on Blonde or Darkness on the Edge of Town.

But…I don’t think so.

RyanAdamsCoverSo anyway, yes, Ryan Adams (Pax Am/Blue Note Records) will be released next week; in the meantime, you can listen to a stream of it here, here, here, or here. A few reviews are starting to appear, because right around or even before release date is when outlets tend to be interested in running them. Never mind that the pre-release period, when a given artist does a bunch of interviews (usually saying some variation on the same thing in each one), tends to be the least-interesting part of a record’s life cycle. It’s just how the game goes.

At least Ryan has been his usual swaggering, quotable self in his latest round of interviews, covering all his by-now-obligatory recurrent bullet points. Drug use, check; disavowing outlandish behavior he has supposedly outgrown, check; references to his prolific nature by way of another high-profile addition to his stash of unreleased music, check; tantalizing suggestion that he might actually release one of his “lost” golden oldies, check; and through it all, Ryan’s insistence that he always just goes with the flow — check.

As for the record itself, whatever I think about it at this point, chances are good I’ll think something completely different a year from now. But you know me, I can never shut the hell up even when I know I should. So here are a few initial impressions based on several days of listening to Ryan Adams:

(1) This might be damning with faint praise, but at least Ryan Adams is better than I expected it to be based on the lead single “Gimme Something Good” — a song that I still find pretty ho-hum after a decent amount of listens over the past few months.

(2) Tom Petty’s shadow hangs heavily over this album, which is not an inherently bad thing because Tom Petty is really good. Multiple songs (most notably “Trouble” and “Stay With Me”) have wailing guitar leads echoing Petty’s 1980 signature hit “Refugee,” and the overall vibe and dynamics are very similar to Damn the Torpedoes-era Tom Petty. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Ryan Adams is a more engaging Petty album than Petty’s own current effort Hypnotic Eye. (ADDENDUM, 12/11/14: Stereogum agrees.)

(3) On the other hand, it pains me to say this, but other songs on Ryan Adams seem reminiscent of (God help me) Bryan Adams, especially “Feels Like Fire.” Now if you’re going to evoke Bryan Adams, “Run To You” would definitely be the right song for it. But still…Bryan Adams? Et tu, Ryan?

Elsewhere, “My Wrecking Ball” sounds like Whiskeytown’s “Avenues” as rewritten by Springsteen, while “I Just Might” sounds like a Springsteen demo. And speaking of popular rock-star dudes of a certain age evoked by this album, let’s see what Ryan’s old Whiskeytown bandmate Phil Wandscher thinks:

PhilRA

(4) It took me a while, but ultimately I decided that my main objection to Ashes and Fire was that it was a bit too subdued and monochromatic. While I wouldn’t call Ryan Adams jumpy or anything, it does vary tempos and textures enough to make me think I might someday prefer this one. But ask me a year or so from now.

(5) It’s tempting to read autobiography into anyone’s songs, but especially with someone like Ryan whose songs have been an open book for so much of his career. Maybe he’s turned over a new leaf, in which he’s no longer writing about himself. But if these songs are anything like an accurate reflection of his current mental state, he’s in a mighty grim place nowadays — and spending a lot of time in his own head. The opening couplet on the album, from “Gimme Something Good,” pretty much sets the tone: I can’t talk/My mind is so blank/So I’m going for a walk/I’ve got nothing left to say…

“I Just Might” is no cheerier: Everything’s broken/In my mind/Ain’t no place to run/Ain’t no place to hide. And “Shadows” likens the space between the singer’s ears to prison with a “field of razor wire” that “comes a little closer.” By the end, he’s “Tired of Giving Up” and decides to “Let Go.” And so he does.

(ADDENDUM (1/24/2015): In light of the two paragraphs above, this is not surprising.)

(6) A self-titled album, especially by someone who has been around a while, implies a statement-of-purpose declaration of sorts: This is who I am. And what bothers me about Ryan Adams is just how generic it is. It’s not bad — in fact, it’s perfectly pleasant while it’s playing — but it also sounds like something that any number of other people could have made. I’d rather hear another record that Ryan and only Ryan could have made. Given his thoughts on his own catalog, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Maybe ever.

And that, dear reader, is why I’m disappointed (though not quite as harshly so as this guy).

ADDENDUM (8/28/2015): I don’t agree with this, but it’s a good take.


EthanReckoningMeantime, I actually do have a current favorite Ryan record, sort of, an album that unobtrusively slipped into the marketplace last month. That would be The Reckoning (Three Crows Music) by Ethan Johns, a mate of Ryan’s who has produced a significant chunk of his post-Whiskeytown solo career (Heartbreaker, Gold and 29). In a role reversal, Ryan is listed as producer of The Reckoning and also credited with drums, bass, electric guitar, synthesis and “Trash can.”

There’s not much trashy about this, though. Understated and emotional, The Reckoning is a song cycle about a young immigrant on the frontier in pre-Civil War America. But never mind the storyline. This brooding little record has a lovely atmosphere that seems fragile but is powerful enough to linger and draw you in. Imagine Heartbreaker if Nick Drake had made it; take a listen here and see what you think.

I’ll keep listening to both these records, of course, and I’ll continue paying attention to Ryan for as long as he’s making music (yeah, even when he’s just goofing off). But down the road, I’m fairly certain that The Reckoning will be the record I’m still interested in hearing.

ADDENDUM (9/9/14): Ethan Johns interview.

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“Losering: The Songs of Ryan Adams” — wish you were here

DMMCBack in Whiskeytown’s prime, I really wanted them to break through to widespread popularity, which seems a bit odd in retrospect. Sure, it would have been fun to watch from close range; but I can’t say why I was rooting for them beyond a vague belief that a large audience was going to provide some measure of validation. There was closure that only a large crowd singing along with “Sixteen Days” was going to provide.

Fittingly and belatedly, that happened last night, sort of. The fine folks at Deep South The Bar in Raleigh put together a tribute show inspired by my book, “Losering: The Songs of Ryan Adams,” and I got to emcee. And about halfway through the show, while members of the band Old Quarter were playing “Sixteen Days” — the song I thought was going to be Whiskeytown’s big breakout hit way back in 1997 — I was hollering along with everyone else in the soldout house and feeling chills about the experience.

Ghost has got me running
Away from you, away from you, awaaaaaay…

It was a truly wonderful night, very much a feeling of being among friends and fellow fans; as much a tribute to the milieu Ryan came out of as to Ryan himself. There were multiple highlights, some of which went like this:

Aaron Menconi, shortly before asking why he started that damn country band.

Aaron Menconi, shortly before asking why he started that damn country band.

The Equivocators — Featuring my dear friend Scott Huler, they kicked things off with three songs from Whiskeytown’s Faithless Street album; “Midway Park,” “Hard Luck Story” and the title track. When Scott got to the “started this damn country band” line, I coached my 18-year-old son Aaron to yell out, “Why’d you do that?”

David Teeter (from the band Martha Ann Motel) — He brought out a couple of more recent Ryan solo songs, “Shadowlands” and “Desire.” And to make the absent guest of honor seem more present, David also played the recording of the infamous Jim DeRogatis voicemail, a legendary moment in artist-critic relations. Guffaws all around.

Ryan Kennemur — Continuing in a humorous vein, Ryan gave a nod to Mr. Adams’ touchier side by belting out a bit of Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69.” Then he got down to business, and his versions of “Turn Around,” “Avenues” and especially “If He Can’t Have You” were outstanding.

John Booker and Rachel Hirsh (I Was Totally Destroying It) — Major props go to John, who did a fantastic job with booking the acts for this show. And he and his bandmate Rachel did great with four songs — “Everybody Knows,” “Call Me On Your Way Back Home,” “Don’t Be Sad” and “Firecracker.” There was an enthusiastic audience sing-along on the latter song, and John needled me a bit for not giving it and the rest of Ryan’s Gold album sufficient respect in the book. Touche! Danny Johnson, who plays in about a thousand other bands, sat in.

Bobby Bryson — I’d never heard Bobby before, and he might have played my favorite set of the night with stellar versions of “A Kiss Before I Go,” “Let It Ride” (also much audience singing along here) and “Carolina Rain.” He showed absolute command instrumentally as well as vocally, and I loved his stage presence. Afterward, he presented me with a business card carrying the slogan Songs that gently rip your heart out. I believe it.

DeepSouthCharles Marshall and Richard Bolton (Balsa Gliders) — They put a couple of Strangers Almanac-era Whiskeytown classics through some unusual paces, quieting down “Waiting to Derail” and rocking up “Avenues.” Very cool, inventive versions that they clearly put some thought into.

John Massengil, George Hage and Danny Johnson (Old Quarter) — The aforementioned “Sixteen Days” sing-along went over great. So did “Jacksonville Skyline” and a lovely reading of “Houses on the Hill.” Meg Johnson sat in on vocals (and also with Jack the Radio). Felt like being at the Brewery back in the day.

Jack the Radio — Speaking of sing-alongs, there was a raucous one on “Come Pick Me Up,” maybe the most exuberant of the night. “O My Sweet Carolina” and “Lucky Now” rounded it out.

Adam Lane and Jeff Mullins — Ryan Kennemur returned for an exceptionally sweet harmony vocal on “Desperate Ain’t Lonely” (which they rehearsed once, outside in the parking lot, and Ryan had to read the lyrics off his phone — perfect). They also offered up a couple of nice rarities, “Onslow County” and “Oh My Sweet Valentine,” which never fails to put a lump in my throat. Last night was no exception.

Ryan Mullaney and Ashley Gray — Two fine singers teamed up to harmonize on “Desire” and the Gold standard “When the Stars Go Blue” (take that, Tim McGraw).

Wylie Hunter (Wylie Hunter & the Cazadores) — Back to Whiskeytown days with “Dancing With the Women at the Bar,” and Heartbreaker‘s “Be My Winding Wheel.” Really glad to hear both.

ChipNYNYChip Robinson (Backsliders) — He sat at the piano and covered “New York, New York,” reading lyrics he’d scribbled out by hand. Fascinating, weird and pretty great, made even moreso because he was wearing a Wu-Tang Clan T-shirt. I snagged the hand-written lyrics for my archive.

Debonzo Brothers — Jeff and Keef with another long-lost favorite, “Hey There, Mrs. Lovely” (yay!), plus Heartbreaker‘s “In My Time of Need.”

Be The Moon — And in the closing slot, this trio from Burlington offered up the resurrected Whiskeytown song “Am I Unstable.” It was fantastic, featuring box drum and an arrangement that Peter Blackstock’s memory placed in the ballpark of the original (which Whiskeytown only played live once, nearly 13 years ago).

All told, the event raised $579 for the Future of Music Coalition. I could not be happier, and prouder of everyone involved. Thanks to all the musicians, and especially to Deep South impressario Dave Rose for making it happen.

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