Posts Tagged With: Jacksonville

June madness continues: The brains behind the bracket

BracketManTaking the Ryan Adams fan universe by storm this week is the “BEST DRA SONG 2017” challenge, a tournament-style bracket to determine Ryan’s best-ever song as determined by fan vote. More than 600 people voted in the first round and there weren’t any huge surprises with the results, as all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the second round and only a few underdogs pulled off upsets. But on a personal level, I have to say that I found one of those lower-seed victories immensely satisfying: From the “2011-Present” region, No. 9 “Jacksonville” knocked off No. 8 “Gimme Something Good” (yes!).

Voting for round two is open through 11:45 p.m. Thursday (June 15), and then it will be on to the “Sweet 16.” The winner should emerge sometime around June 25.

This admirably ambitious project is the work of superfan Christopher S. Bradley, an attorney at a Pennsylvania-based law firm. He was kind enough to entertain a few questions about his methodology, which are below (lightly edited).

(1) Did you come up with the seedings and pairings yourself, or did others have input?

I originally came up with the bracket and regions (eras) first. I had to think of a way to distill his massive catalog down to a field of 64 without picking and choosing MY personal favorites. So I went through each “era” and pulled the songs off of albums and EPs from that era and made a “Group.” I was as transparent as possible when doing this, I listed what albums and EPs I pulled from in each group. I did not do doubles in the same group (“Anybody Wanna Take Me Home” was only listed once in the so-called “Heartbreaker” Group). However, I did include “This Is It” in the “Heartbreaker” group and the Cardinals Group. What resulted was a massive group play survey wherein respondents would choose 15 songs in each group and songs would be seeded according to number of votes received. Any ties were resolved by coin flip and any ties of three or more were winnowed down to a coin flip choice by random number generator (this only happened in the Cardinals Group). A song was assigned “heads” based on alphabetical order. The full results in PDF form can be found here.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, that 15×4 does not equal 64. I know there is a segment of the fanbase (myself included) that celebrates a lot of the unreleased material. So I created a fifth “Play-in” group with unique songs from “The Suicide Handbook,” “48 Hours,” “Pinkhearts 1 & 2,” “Darkbreaker,” “Destroyer,” “Fasterpiece,” “Let it B Minus,” “Swedish Sessions” and “Exile on Franklin Street.” The respondents were asked to select eight songs from this group that would be matched up highest to lowest seed and voted upon to make four 16 seeds. Only 50 people voted on the Play-In Matchups.

I deliberately left out the genre joke projects like Werewolph, The Shit, Sleazy Handshake, DJ Reggie, etc. While some of this stuff is fun, I made the executive decision deeming those projects outside the scope of this particular foray into superfandom.

My survey was not without mistakes, I left out some of the great tracks from the deluxe reissue of “Strangers Almanac” in the Whiskeytown Group, and many of the unreleased albums I have are missing some tracks here and there. I don’t believe this skewed the final results; many of the people I confided in correctly predicted it would more than likely come down to many of the more popular songs. The biggest surprise that made the field of 64 was “Jacksonville” off of the Pax Am Singles Series EP of the same name. All told, 260 people voted on the Group Play Survey.

(2) I presume the criteria was that songs had to be “officially” released in some fashion — no bootlegs, or songs that just existed live?

I did limit it to official releases, but in order to have people get a say on the unreleased material, I created that fifth group drawing from the bulk of his unreleased stuff. I had those winners seeded 16 because they’re unreleased and I didn’t feel comfortable having something Ryan didn’t officially release be above stuff he worked hard to polish into an official release. If a 16 seed were to upset a 1 seed in the tournament portion, then that segment of the fanbase who feels “Come Pick Me Up” is somehow worse than “Walls” would be vindicated in a more democratic fashion rather than including unreleased material by era and having it lose badly during group play.

I was pretty close to leaving out EPs and such from each group. But in the end, especially in the 2011-Present group, I decided to include them because there are a lot of amazing songs there. Part of me wanted people to discover more and more of his music. We can’t all be rabid superfans!

I don’t believe I included any live tracks or even the ones played live that are allegedly on “Blackhole” such as “Catherine” and “The Door.” To me, these would fall under the “unreleased” category; if I included some live music then I would have to include a lot of other live songs such as live covers Ryan has done many times. But album-released covers are fair game because, like “Wonderwall” and the entirety of “1989,” they’re his arrangements and versions of those songs.

(3) Part of the fun of being a Ryan Adams fan is that we’ve all got our favorite phases and stages — Whiskeytown, Cardinals, Gold and so on — which we insist are the best. What’s your favorite era of his?

Oh man, this is a hard question. I suppose I deserve it because I’m asking all these people to choose between some of their favorite songs. I guess if I were to choose it would be the Cardinals, because a lot of that music is one of the things that got me through law school with my sanity nearly intact.

The best part about music in general is its subjectivity; there is literally no way I can unequivocally tell you what I like is better than what you like because you can’t make someone not like something if it is their personal taste. This is the most scientific way I could come up with that would objectively pick the best Ryan Adams song. But if you’re a fan you still have the freedom to believe the Cardinals were the best thing since sliced bread and everything else is trash.

I am in a lot of the DRA Facebook groups where people are constantly making blanket statements like, “‘Ashes & Fire’ sucks,” “Why bother with anything Ryan does nowadays, he hasn’t been good since the Cardinals,” “Ryan Adams peaked with Whiskeytown,” “‘Love Is Hell’ is Ryan’s best work don’t @ me.” No one backs these statements up, because it is their personal preference; to me all of those statements are true depending on how I feel that day.

(4) What’s your background — where are you originally from, and when/how did your DRA fandom start?

I grew up in the rural northeastern portion of Pennsylvania where bro country rules the airwaves. I am a huge Bob Dylan fan and anyone with a passing interest in Dylanology can see the broad similarities between him and Ryan. They both refuse to be pigeonholed into any genre, they’re both prolific writers, they change their musical style album to album, era to era, and don’t give a flying fajita what the masses think. Hell, I’m sure Ryan would spit out his tea if he saw me even making that comparison. Late in my high school career I was turned on to Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Bottle Rockets, Son Volt, DBT, et. al. This of course led me to Whiskeytown and DRA.

I attended Duquesne University in Pittsburgh for undergrad and law school. During that time a lot of Ryan’s music got me through tough papers and finals and what not. I probably drove my various roommates insane by playing a lot of songs on repeat (I do that now to my wife). But to me, all of his music is timeless.


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June madness: The “DRA Best Song” bracket

Well, now, here’s some good superfan fun: a tournament-style bracket to determine Ryan Adams’ best-ever song through 2017, as determined by fan vote. I could quibble about some of what’s missing from “Best DRA Song 2017” — what, no “Hey There Mrs. Lovely”?! — and there were more than a few selections I had to agonize over (“Prisoner” versus “To Be Without You,” that is a tough first-round matchup). But on the whole, I’d say this is pretty solid; I was particularly glad to see “Jacksonville” as a darkhorse entry in the “2011-Present” region.

Anyway, looks like the first round is open through 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, June 13. Vote here,  check out the entire bracket here (or below) and take a listen to the accompanying Spotify playlist. Go Whiskeytown!


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Raleigh: Ryan’s town, and Biggie’s, too

biggieOne of my favorite little details in “Losering” is, admittedly, one of the least consequential to be found anywhere in the book. It comes at the end of the chapter about Ryan’s early-1990s arrival in Raleigh from Jacksonville, and it takes note of another recent arrival who also spent a few years in Raleigh shortly before going off to get famous. That was Christopher Wallace, better-known as Biggie Smalls — the rapper Notorious B.I.G., who died 20 years ago this week.

Ryan got in a little trouble with the law back then, but nothing too serious. As for Wallace, who had come South from Brooklyn to try and stay out of trouble, he was arrested for possession of cocaine and marijuana with intent to sell; he copped a guilty plea in exchange for probation and a suspended sentence before moving on. By the time Biggie was murdered in a 1997 drive-by shooting, a few months shy of his 25th birthday, he was among the biggest rappers in the world. You can see a remembrance of his Raleigh days here. Some years ago, I went and looked up Wallace’s arrest report, hoping it might include a mugshot. But if ever a mugshot existed, it was long gone by then.

Of course, none of this is to suggest that Ryan and Biggie hung out together in Raleigh, or even met; there is no evidence they ever did. Nevertheless, I found it kind of fascinating that they were both knocking around the same off-the-beaten-path town back then, under similar hardscrabble circumstances. So this is how Chapter 2 of “Losering” concludes:

Like Adams, Wallace wasn’t shy about telling people he was going to be famous someday. But history does not record whether or not Ryan and Biggie ever crossed paths in Raleigh during their prefame days.

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“Greatest Southern Musician” Madness

Whether in sports or music, GREATEST-OF-ALL-TIME arguments are inherently pointless — but they sure are fun. And here’s another solid argument-starter: The Alabama Media Group  is conducting an online poll asking readers to “Vote for the Greatest Southern Musician” of all time. To that end, they’ve done up a seeded NCAA Basketball Tournament-style bracket of 64 acts in four different Southern regions, from Texas-Louisiana to Florida-Kentucky-North/South Carolina-Virginia.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 8.54.38 AMNorth Carolina native Ryan Adams shows up in the latter bracket as a No. 14 seed. That puts him in a tough first-round matchup against No. 3 Lynyrd Skynyrd in what calls “the Battle of the Jacksonvilles,” Florida versus North Carolina. In that case, I think Ryan should get extra credit for “Jacksonville Skyline” and “Jacksonville.” Looks like he could use a little help, too. When I voted this morning, the ’70s Southern-rock icons were winning in a blowout with more than 88 percent of 819 votes cast so far.

This “ACC” Southeast region’s No. 1 seed is soul godfather James Brown, which actually seems just about right; he should make short work of No. 16 Chris Stapleton. Of North Carolina interest further down the bracket is confessional singer-songwriter James Taylor, who was born in Massachusetts but spent enough of his formative years in Chapel Hill to write one of North Carolina’s definitive songs, at No. 9 and matched up with No. 8 Jimmy Buffett; Tryon-raised r&b icon Nina Simone at No. 6, pitted against Wilmington native Charlie Daniels at No. 11; and songbird Emmylou Harris, an Alabama native who did some time at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro (and was also Ryan’s duet partner on “Oh My Sweet Carolina”), at No. 10 and up against No. 7 Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass.

There’s a whole section of rules about how they determined who rated a spot in the field and where. This round of voting closes Saturday (June 25), with the eventual winner scheduled to be unveiled on July 18. And if Ryan is to have better luck with this than the Grammy Awards, he’s got some ground to make up. Cast your vote here.

UPDATE (6/26/2016): Well, Ryan’s stay in this particular tournament was a short one. Lynyrd Skynyrd beat him with ease, pulling just under 80 percent of 1,235 votes cast to win by a final count of 987-248. James Taylor also bowed out in the first round, losing to Jimmy Buffett, as did Nina Simone to Charlie Daniels. But Emmylou Harris managed to advance past Bill Monroe; looks like she’ll be up against No. 2 seed Tom Petty in round two.

UPDATE (7/18/2016): The Overall winner is George Strait.

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Halloweenhead: Ryan Adams embraces the suck with “Vampires”

DRAVampiresWell, it’s one step forward and two steps back on Planet DRA, same as it ever was. I’ve been trying and failing to warm up to the Ryan Adams album for a couple of months, but things were looking up with “Jacksonville” — a lovely little non-album seven-inch that followed the album, and the best thing I’d heard out of Ryan in eons.

“Jacksonville” was good enough to make me hold out some hopes for its followup seven-inch, “Vampires,” which is out just in time for Halloween and yay for that. But seasonally appropriate release-date timing is about all “Vampires” has going for it, because all four of these songs pretty much fully suck. The beyond-grating “Clown Asylum” is the worst offender, but they’re all so lazily executed that I can’t figure out why he even bothered unless this is an experiment in finding out just how blindly devoted his fanbase really is.

Kind of a cool cover, though. I guess.

ADDENDUM (12/10/2014): Next up in Ryan’s seven-inch series is “Do You Laugh When You Lie,” which is marginally better than “Vampires” but not by much (or at least not enough).

FURTHERMORE (1/14/2015): The “No Shadow” seven-inch is, despite Johnny Depp’s much-hyped presence, also nothing special (although the “It’s In My Head” B-side ain’t bad).

AND SO ON (6/23/2015): “Burn in the Night” is decent, but the “Cop City” B-side wastes a pretty cool Pete Townshend-style riff on super-stupid lyrics (“Eddie & the Cruisers/They were from Mars/And they all survived on chocolate bars”). At least the third track, the “1984” outtake “Look in the Mirror,” is an actual song and not a wanky goof.

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What might have been: Ryan Adams goes back to “Jacksonville”

RyanAdamsCoverBelieve it or not, I really don’t go out of my way to be contrary about Ryan Adams’ late-period work. With every record he’s released since the Whiskeytown days, I’ve put in a fair amount of listens, trying to find something to like. And while they all have some merit (or at least a handful of decent songs), overall most of them come up short for me. That goes for the current eponymous album Ryan Adams, which has drawn mostly positive reviews but still strikes me as somewhere between meh and okay. There’s a song or two on it that I’ll find myself humming along with, but for the most part my preliminary conclusion on it from just over a month ago still stands:

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.

draJvilleIf I thought that Ryan could no longer do this kind of work anymore — if he had really moved on from that phase of his life, personally as well as artistically, to the point that it just wasn’t in him — I believe I could reconcile that and move on myself. But then he does something like his latest seven-inch EP, “Jacksonville”-“I Keep Running”-“Walkedypants,” and it just keeps me hangin’ on.

It’s not flawless, of course. “Walkedypants” is one of Ryan’s infamous in-studio goofs, two-and-a-half minutes you’ll never need to hear more than once. The other two songs, however, could be the missing link between Whiskeytown’s dark masterpiece Strangers Almanac and Ryan’s ambitious ornate-pop effort Pneumonia (with a little solo-era Cold Roses thrown in). More than a decade and a half later, he’s gone from sounding older than his years to sounding like he’s finally caught up with himself.

In glorious shades of pop-twang, Ryan sketches out yet another bittersweet lament for the old North Carolina hometown he used to curse. But you can’t tell me he doesn’t love it now, just from the way his voice quavers on the “Oh, Jacksonville” chorus. It’s heart-stoppingly lovely. Then, just to split the arrow in the bullseye, he follows that with another attempt to explain in song why he’s still running away from it after all this time.

I’m faster than the pain
That’s running through my veins
And you can’t break my heart if you don’t know my name
I keep running…

But that’s the thing. Run from something long enough and eventually you’ll find yourself running back to it (“Run To You,” indeed). And close to 20 years since Whiskeytown’s heyday, Ryan can still resonate on that wavelength when he gets a mind to. Had he done a whole album like this, he’d deserve the current round of accolades and a whole lot more. Instead, he puts out a major-label album that sounds like second-rate Tom Petty/Bryan Adams mash-ups while relegating his best work in years — songs that sound like they actually mean something! — to a limited-edition seven-inch release.

You have gone missing from my life…

Ryan Adams is better than Ryan Adams and “Jacksonville” proves it. I really wish I could have picked someone less frustrating as object of neurotic fandom. But for the seven-and-a-half minutes “Jacksonville” and “I Keep Running” are playing, it feels just like old times.

That’ll have to do.


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Jacksonville Skyline

JacksonvilleUnless you’ve done time in the military or driven to the beach from the Raleigh vicinity, chances are good you’ve never been anywhere near Ryan Adams’ birthplace of Jacksonville, North Carolina. And while Greater Jacksonville is not without its charms, it still seems like the sort of town most people want to flee at the earliest opportunity. That was certainly the case for Ryan, who (as recounted in the “Before” segment of “Losering”) ran away to Raleigh the first chance he got.

So if you’re wondering what Jacksonville looks like, Bob Fenster and friends at the Facebook group Theme Music have put together a nice little video tour. They’ve covered “Inn Town,” kickoff track to the signpost Whiskeytown album Strangers Almanac, accompanied by visuals taken from some YouTube videos shot in Jacksonville. Check it out here.

The combination of the landscape shots of scenery (and lack thereof) with “Inn Town”‘s forlorn vibe nails Jacksonville’s transitory facelessness perfectly; it’s a place nobody goes to, just passes through. And the final minute, shot from a car traversing the Highway 24 main drag, evokes pretty much exactly what it feels like to drive through there and wonder about the individual stories behind the desolate storefronts.

Back before I crossed paths with Ryan, I remember passing through Jacksonville and asking myself: Who lives here?…

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If you’ve ever drunk Cheerwine, tipped a cow and listened to Ryan Adams…you might be from North Carolina

NCPostcardMaking the online rounds this week is a listicle called “38 Signs You’re From North Carolina,” a trifle that makes the obligatory nods to sports rivalries, barbecue, NASCAR, cow-tipping, Cheerwine, Krispy Kreme and other Old North State staples — including music, although the artists cited don’t exactly seem up-to-date. As you can see in Reason No. 20 below, You like to brag about the North Carolina music scene, our man Ryan Adams gets namechecked even though he’s not lived here in more than a decade.

Also on the list is Winston-Salem native Ben Folds (ditto); rising Chapel Hill country-rock band Mount Moriah (the list’s one current name, well-chosen and very hip); old-school hip-hop group Little Brother (also not so current, alas, but great nevertheless); Massachusetts-born ringer James Taylor (well, um, even less current); and from way out in left field…Fred Freakin’ Durst? Dang, I had no idea he was a Tar Heel native. But yeah, Durst was born in Gastonia before going on to form the loathesome rap-metal band Limp Bizkit in that “other” Jacksonville the same year Whiskeytown got together, if Wikipedia is to be believed. Well, ya learn something every day


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Jacksonville’s a city with a hopeless streetlight…

UlinskyLandscapeRyan Adams has always had a rather complicated love-hate relationship with North Carolina, particularly his birthplace of Jacksonville. With me or anyone else, I don’t think Jacksonville ever came up in one of Ryan’s interviews where he didn’t speak of it in disparaging terms. In one of the first interviews I did with him way back when, he called Jacksonville “a dismal town with a military base.”

That’s of a piece with most of what Ryan has said about it in public over the years. When it came to writing “Losering,” Jacksonville didn’t figure much into the story beyond being a place Ryan fled the first chance he got. I remember calling up someone who lived down there, asking about local landmarks and getting laughed at.

“Buddy,” he said, “this might be as unlandmarky a place as there is.”

For all that, however, Ryan’s first hometown has also inspired some of his best songs, including “Midway Park” and especially “Jacksonville Skyline” — a gorgeously bittersweet remembrance, and one of my favorites from his Whiskeytown catalog. Jacksonville is not without its virtues, of course, but you just have to look a lot harder to find them. And sometimes, as this lovely and astonishing essay points out, it takes being in a place like Jacksonville to find those virtues within yourself:

Something about this town has brought me to the bottom of myself, to the place I have been avoiding for years, covering up with power yoga and running, volunteering and a second glass of wine…I am discovering that wisdom hides in the most wretched of places, buried deep in the towns with the hopeless streetlights.

But some of the charms of Jacksonville and the rest of Eastern North Carolina are evident if you’re willing to take a step back, open your eyes and really look. That’s the subject of an exhibit by Anthony Ulinski, a Raleigh painter who used to think the same thing most inlanders do about the territory south and east of the Triangle: that it was nothing more than what you drove through on the way to the beach. But Ulinski has spent the past few years painting landscapes of the seemingly desolate Down East flatlands between the mountains to the west and the beaches to the east. It’s literally “The Places In Between,” a collection that will be on display in various galleries in North Carolina through this year. You can find a piece I’ve written about Ulinski and the exhibit in Sunday’s News & Observer.

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