Posts Tagged With: Jacksonville City Nights

“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

Ryan Adams rates himself

DRAself-reviewI can’t vouch for the authenticity of this “ASSESSMENT WRITTEN (BY) RYAN ADAMS, HIMSELF,” which DRA super-fan Darren Combs recently unearthed from a tumblr page; looks like an artifact that someone came across in a record store, and it would seem to date back to sometime after Ryan turned 33 years old in November 2007 (Probably around the time the Cardinology album came out in the fall of 2008). Whether or not it’s genuine, however, this sure reads like something the Ryan I remember would have written, and with pretty much the same handwriting to boot.

As to what he’s saying here, it will surprise no one who has read either “Losering” or this assessment that Ryan and I have vastly different takes on the relative merits of his catalog — although I’m basically with him on both Gold and Love Is Hell. But I’d say he vastly underrates Heartbreaker (as well as Demolition and, to a lesser extent, Rock N’ Roll) while grossly overrating the Cardinals albums (Cold Roses aside, of course). Whiskeytown, naturally, goes unmentioned.

Anyway, click on the picture at right to enlarge it, or see below for the more easily legible typewritten version. Here is Ryan according to Ryan, circa 2008. Reading this, I can’t help but wonder: What would this version of Ryan Adams think of “Gimme Something Good” and the rest of the soon-to-be-released Ryan Adams?

 

RYAN ADAMS (SEE CARDINALS)
Non-Canadian Hack-Assface

At 33, it’s safe to say that most of these records blow. There are like 3 good songs (maybe) on Gold (2) on Demolition and NONE on Rock n’ Roll (AWFUL DON’T BUY) But….Love is Hell is good because I was high as fuck back then and it worked. ALL the Cardinals records have good tunes. 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. I like Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights, Follow the Lights, Easy Tiger (wait for the Cardinals ver.) and CARDINOLOGY. Keep it real — Ryan Adams

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

29 Cold Jacksonville Roses

29Roses

Yes, these roses are cold. And from Jacksonville.

As recounted in chapter 16 of “Losering,” I paid tribute to Ryan’s hyper-productive 2005 by boiling the box set’s worth of music he released that year (41 songs on three albums, one of them a double-disc) down to a single album. Yes, I know that “Ryan never edits himself” is a well-worn trope, and putting this list in the book even seemed to offend some people.  Nevertheless, it’s still a fun exercise, and I really do believe that a single great 13-song album was in there somewhere from all the music he put out that year. Most of it is from Cold Roses, since that’s one of the best records from Ryan’s solo era, but even that could have used some pruning and sharpening.

Ultimately, I settled on seven tracks from Cold Roses and three each from 29 and Jacksonville City Nights. After deciding on a track list, I tinkered endlessly with the running order. After trying countless combinations over a period of months, here is what I came up with, 29 Cold Jacksonville Roses, available only on your iPod or Spotify. See if you think it holds up:

Magnolia Mountain
Beautiful Sorta
PA
Let It Ride
Carolina Rain
When Will You Come Back Home
Mockingbird
Dear John
Rosebud
September
Blue Sky Blues
Dance All Night
Night Birds

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

Ain’t no obsessive like a Ryan Adams obsessive

So it’s wonderful to hear from folks who love your book, however much or little they have to say about it (seriously, any and all feedback is welcome at dlmenconi@gmail.com). But it’s also great to hear from readers who engage with your book so strongly that they are moved to respond with vigorous disagreement. I’ve heard from plenty of folks who have read “Losering,” and no one has responded with quite as much verve as Sharon Black, a librarian and fellow DRA obsessive from Philadelphia. Below is the first of several messages she has sent, reprinted with her kind permission. Not that she’s changed my mind about Jacksonville City Nights, but I did agree to give it and “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.” a fresh listen. I figure it’s the least I can do.

Dear David—

I really enjoyed your book on Ryan Adams–thanks for being such a good fan and critic.  Most of the time you are spot on, but a couple of the misses are huge.  So let me take issue.  First of all you must go back with a clear head and list to JCN.  It holds up as one of his BEST recordings.  It is more consistent through and through than Cold Roses or Easy Tiger (which are plenty good).  To have no respect for a song like Games (that starts with a killer lyric like “You aint but a fire on my sad estate, burning my house to the ground”) boggles the mind—the whole song has a beautiful melody and I like how it gets surreal out there where the taxis don’t ride.  ‘Nuf said.  Seriously, please reconsider JCN.  Even Pitchfork respects it more than you do. And over the years it has gained in favor among critics.  When he came out with it wasn’t what folks were expecting and they felt they heard enough from him that year.  The first time I heard it I was jarred too. But then it grows on you and it stands as one of his most solid albums.

You also write off one of his best songs ever, omg!   That being “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.”  That title is not lazy playfulness, or unfinished writing.  Yes, he can be immature like that but this is not an example of that. Please read this analysis of the song:

“It is a beautiful song about grace and the ineffable wonder of life realized by a motel worker after an ordinary, modestly described (in amusing, idiosyncratic Adams fashion) double shift.  The lyric is fairly profound but has this really light touch (nice achievement). No flowery language or big statements and it never gets sappy.  It starts with the worker hearing the noises of lovemaking through a wall. He knows their names, “One of them’s James/The other’s some name she changes every time she lies across his bed,” a line that cleverly elaborates on the stereotype of lovers signing the motel registry under various aliases by going on to suggest the female might be good at what she does, at least she has different personalities (names)—just the kind of reverie a motel worker might entertain. The next verse contains the wonderfully quirky line.  “If I could I’d fold myself away like a card table, a concertina, or a murphy bed.” He appreciates that everyone tips but baldly confesses “not enough to knock me out.” No one’s “generosity” at this place is going to change his life. Ah, but something else is about to… Both of these verses are punctuated by the beautiful chorus where this everyman double shift worker looks up at the sky and experiences a moment of awe; the music here is transporting, you feel yourself drawn upwards into the constellation as “the light of the moon leads the way/Towards the morning and the sun/The sun’s well on the way too soon to know…”  A kind of spiritual feeling sneaks up on him but he’s tired, he’s everyman and not a poet so all he can say is “…and/Oh my god, whatever, etcetera.”  He doesn’t have words for the wonder, but it registers with him.  He gets it. Epiphany achieved. Of course the songwriter, Mr. Adams, IS a poet even if the poetry of this song is understated, duh, that’s part of its poetry.”

So my point, Mr. Menconi, is of course you don’t have to like everything he does (I find his most uneven, sophomoric work is on Cardinology,  e.g the moralizing, this is the way life works lyric of “The Sun Also Sets” ugh) but be careful not to single out his masterpieces for scorn!  It makes me not trust you musical aesthetics.

But good work on the book, I did enjoy it.

Cheers,
Sharon Black (who was one of those readers who pre-ordered Losering)

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

Blog at WordPress.com.