Posts Tagged With: Lucky Now

First impressions: Ryan Adams’ “1989”

Today is release day for DRA 1989, Ryan Adams’ version of all 13 songs from queen-of-the-universe Taylor Swift’s massively popular 2014 album of the same name. Ryan himself is talking about it while the financial press is tallying how much money will change hands. And since we live in an on-demand world where timeliness rules above all else, a lot of my fellow critics are busily cranking out all their hot takes based on 24 hours or less of binge listening. Any record takes time to properly digest, of course, but that seems especially true for a project like this one. Eventually, I hope to have something more thoughtful to say about it. But for now, here are some initial impressions based on as many listens as I’ve been able to manage since getting the tracks yesterday afternoon.

*It’s been both hilarious and disturbing to read all the weird speculation about Ryan’s motives, including this gem of a Facebook post from his long-ago Whiskeytown bandmate Phil Wandscher:

Phils1989take

Oh, Phil…

Only Ryan can say for sure why he chose to do this, of course, but I don’t buy it as either high-tech flirting or crass commercial ploy. If Ryan were truly interested in appealing to Taylor Swift’s massive fan base, taking all the gloss off her pop to reveal its moody essence is a strange strategy because it will just confuse the average T.Swift fan. For example:

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 11.57.19 AM

My take on this whole thing is it’s just Ryan getting excited about a weird idea and running with it, because he can. But really, any of Ryan’s fans who think DRA 1989 is somehow out of character just haven’t been paying attention because it perfectly fits his career. He’s always played covers of pop songs you’d think would be beneath him, and this also isn’t the first time he’s recorded someone else’s album that he admired (see: his version of The Strokes Is This It?). And if you go back a quarter-century, teenage Ryan was already recording cassettes of himself and labeling them (c) PAX AMERICANA. Fast forward to the present day and the only difference is he’s got a real studio and access to famous folks now. Oh, and he’s shortened his label name to PAX AM.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 10.27.58 AM*To my ears, this really does play like a bookend to last year’s Ryan Adams, a downcast and glum album that took the subsequent announcement of Ryan’s divorce from Mandy Moore to fully resonate. Even if I’m still not crazy about Ryan Adams, I do feel like it makes more sense emotionally than it did a year ago. Add in marriage meltdown and depression, and it’s easy to see how 1989 songs about disappointment (“Blank Space,” “All You Had to Do Was Stay”), longing (“I Wish You Would,” “How You Get the Girl”), bad blood (“Bad Blood”) and rising above (“Shake It Off”) might  speak to Ryan more directly than you’d think. He’s taken 1989 and turned it into his own private Blood on the Tracks, sort of.

*Ryan Adams and 1989 are also of a piece sonically, which is not an entirely positive thing. After hearing Live at Carnegie Hall, I concluded that my biggest problem with Ryan Adams was the ’80s production because those same songs were far more effective as unadorned solo acoustic performances. I’m having similar feelings about 1989, wishing he’d stripped it down even further because so far my favorite songs are its least-adorned. Particularly revelatory is the acoustic take on “Blank Space,” which still packs an earworm of a hook — but with the shrill tones of the original toned down, the repetition of the chorus seems less manic than obsessive.

*I really wish Ryan had dialed down the reverb on his voice, which makes him sound murky and distant when it seems like immediacy is what’s called for. I’m imagining these songs with Ryan’s voice unadorned and right upfront, a la “Jacksonville Skyline” or “Lucky Now,” and this version with his voice buried in an echo-filled chasm feels like a missed opportunity.

*I like the “I’m on Fire” version of “Shake It Off.” I also kinda like the ocean and bird songs that begin and end the album, which is reminiscent of The Who’s Quadrophenia (hmm…!) and adds to my curiosity about the cover art.

Overall, I’m liking it so far. More soon, I hope…

ADDENDA (9/22-23/2015): Somehow, there really are people out there who thought it was Bryan Adams covering Taylor Swift (oy); Here’s a piece on the legal logistics of 1989, plus weigh-ins from The New YorkerThe Atlantic, Esquire and U.K. Mirror — plus the dumbest headline about DRA 1989 anywhere. Here’s more dumbassery, and Saving Country Music does not seem to care for it, either. Same for a lot of folks on Twitter, plus this guy. Here’s an interesting take. And you had to know this was coming, “better Taylor Swift covers.” You could almost call it a backlash. But here are kinder words from absolutepunk.net.

MORE (9/24-26/2015): People are already talking about a hypothetical 1989 Grammy showdown (UPDATE, 12/7: which won’t happen). Also, “meh” reviews in Rolling Stone and especially Pitchfork. The latter leads to a pointed question. And here’s someone calling it “a worthwhile disappointment.” But there are apparently “liturgical lessons” to be had from it.

More (Oct.-Nov. ’15): A reach, but an interesting one. Also, Ryan interviews Taylor. In this interview, he compares her to Shakespeare. A good Drowned in Sound review. But The Guardian doesn’t much care for it.

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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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Ryan Adams by the numbers: Money, money, money in the bank

Ryan Adams has had a very fine career by the numbers as well as by the music, which is something that entered into the “Losering” story. While I was working on the book, I called upon a friend who worked at a music-business establishment with a subscription to Nielsen Soundscan, the service that tracks music sales in the U.S. He provided album-sales figures for Ryan’s catalog, both solo and with Whiskeytown, which was very useful data to have. While it would be unwise to put all the precise to-the-last-digit numbers for every album here (Soundscan is a subscription service, after all), Ryan’s sales figures through January 2012 can be summarized thusly:

Whiskeytown — 424,103 total sales. In terms of individual titles, the range was from just over 150,000 copies of the original 1997 version of Strangers Almanac down to just under 3,000 copies of the original 1996 independent-label version of Faithless Street. Whiskeytown’s 2001 swan song Pneumonia and the 1998 Outpost Records reissue of Faithless Street were both at over 100,000 copies.

Ryan Adams solo — 2,362,984 total sales, topped by 2001’s Gold at about 425,000 (a figure you’ll notice is greater than the entire Whiskeytown catalog combined) and followed by 2000’s Heartbreaker at about 309,000 and 2007’s Easy Tiger at just over 250,000. Of the rest, only 2003’s Rock N Roll was at more than 200,000 — although 2005’s Cold Roses was close. And bringing up the rear: 2005’s 29 at about 96,000, and 2010’s III/IV at just under 49,000.

NetWorthAdd it up, and it comes to almost 2.8 million in total U.S. album sales (which is probably at least in the neighborhood of 3 million by now, since that was 16 months ago). Nothing to rival U2, but a very healthy sum nevertheless. And while Whiskeytown didn’t make Ryan rich, his ensuing solo career certainly has. How rich? Well, according to the mavens at CelebrityNetWorth.com, Ryan’s estimated net worth is $24 million — a sum that obviously includes revenue from more than just domestic record sales, such as touring, Tim McGraw’s country-hit cover of “When The Stars Go Blue” and all the weird places “Come Pick Me Up” has appeared over the years.

(UPDATE, 3/9/16: Probably as a result of Ryan’s divorce from Mandy Moore, CelebrityNetWorth.com has halved its estimate of his net worth — from $24 million down to $12 million.)

I should note that I’m not sure how trustworthy that $24 million figure is. Not that I know anything about net worth of the rich and famous; but if I’d been asked to estimate Ryan’s fortune before seeing this, I probably would have guessed somewhere closer to the $9 million that Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy is said to be worth. And yet it’s just as possible that $24 million is a conservative estimate because CelebrityNetWorth.com’s summary of Ryan’s career is woefully out-of-date (not to mention sloppy). Here it is verbatim:

Ryan Adams is a North Carolina-born singer-songwriter, musician, and author with an estimated net worth of $24 million dollars. Originally recognized for his work with the alt-rock group, Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams left to pursue a solo career, and has since released five solo studio albums. He also performed with The Cardinals until 2009, when he decided to take a break from music. He is most widely recognized for his song, “New York, New York”.

(Note: This entry has since been updated, but the revised version at that link remains just as clue-impaired.)

Actually, “five solo studio albums” is less than half of what Ryan has released since Whiskeytown disbanded; he’s put out two albums (one a two-disc set) and appeared in a movie since that “break from music” ended; even though “New York, New York” got played on TV at Thursday night’s NFL draft (cha-ching!), I’d still say that “Come Pick Me Up,” “When the Stars Go Blue” and possibly even “Lucky Now” are all better-known by now; and while I’m at it, as descriptions go, “alt-rock group” is a pretty crappy one for Whiskeytown. At any rate, between Ryan’s bottom line and the $23 million that his singer-actress wife Mandy Moore is worth, it seems safe to say he’s not sweating next month’s electric bill.

So how does Ryan’s estimated net worth stack up with what other celebrities are worth, you ask? Well, it’s a fraction of the fortunes of old-school superstars who have been at it for 30 years or more, including Paul McCartney ($800 million), Madonna ($650 million), Dolly Parton ($450 million), Mick Jagger ($305 million), Bruce Springsteen ($200 million) and Robert Plant ($120 million).

But Ryan isn’t too far behind contemporaries like Jack White and Drake, who are both at $30 million. I was actually surprised that Adele didn’t come in higher than $45 million. The next level up is Justin Timberlake at $100 million and Usher at $110 million. Higher still is Foo Fighters main man Dave Grohl (managed, like Ryan, by John Silva) with $225 million, much of which originated from his early-1990s time in Nirvana; and hip-hop icon Jay-Z is in a class by himself with $500 million. Throw in his wife Beyonce’s $300 million, and that’s a household with some serious financial juice.

Returning to Ryan’s relatively modest end of the spectrum, I was a bit surprised at some of the artists he’s well ahead of, including Patti Smith ($15 million), Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas ($10 million) and “Call Me Maybe” hitmaker Carly Rae Jepsen (and if you’re wondering what that level of one-hit-wonder omnipresence is worth, $1 million is apparently the answer).

Narrow the field down to musicians from North Carolina, and about the only one ahead of Ryan is Ben Folds at $35 million (if you don’t count Massachusetts-born James Taylor, $60 million). Another interesting detail is just how far Ryan is ahead of all of North Carolina’s “American Idol” stars, a delegation led by Chris Daughtry at $8.5 million. Clay Aiken is next at $4 million, while Scotty McCreery, Kellie Pickler and Fantasia all come in at $1.5 million or less.

I think the lesson to be learned there is that “American Idol” is more likely to convey fame than fortune. But I still wouldn’t mind trying to scrape by on the bank account of anybody on this list.

ADDENDUM (2/5/15): Here’s more detail from a website called CelebrityGlory.com, although I wouldn’t put much stock in any of their figures. To cite just one questionable example, I’m not sure what they were smoking to have concluded that Ryan’s “1984” limited-edition seven-inch generated the suspiciously robust sum of $349,650.

SECOND ADDENDUM (12/9/15): According to divorce papers filed by Mandy Moore, Ryan earns $151,000 a month — which comes to more than $1.8 million a year, while she claims to be scraping by on “less than a quarter of that” (and is therefore asking for $37,000 a month in spousal support). Anyway, maybe he is worth $24 million…

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Billy The Kid: 31 Ryan songs in 31 days

People post YouTube clips of themselves covering Ryan Adams songs all the time, and most such effforts fall somewhere between unremarkable and cringey. But this month, Canadian singer/songwriter Billy The Kid (real name Billy Pettinger) is doing something a cut above most fan homages — posting a cover of one Ryan song per day throughout January, 31 songs in all.

So far, she’s done everything from the Heartbreaker tune “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” to the “This Is 40” playout “Lucky Now,” and I have to say I’m impressed. Take a look. And if you’re taking requests, Ms. Kid…how about “Inn Town” or “Houses on the Hill”?

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Ryan Adams’ “Lucky Now” plays out “This Is 40”

ThisIs40When I was in the process of finishing up “Losering” in the fall of 2011, Ryan’s Ashes & Fire album arrived like a gift from the heavens. I was writing a book focused on Ryan’s early years, and a recurrent theme of the closing stretch was his literal disconnection from that time. Then here came Ashes, on which Ryan sounded more like his younger self than he had in years. Best of all was this opening couplet from the album’s first single:

I don’t remember, were we wild and young?
All that’s faded into memory.
I feel like somebody I don’t know.
Are we really who we used to be?
Am I really who I was?

That’s “Lucky Now,” which tied up the whole “Losering” story with a nice little bow; I almost felt like I should send Ryan a thank-you note. But I settled for writing that “Lucky Now” put me in mind of Ryan going back in time with one of Charles Dickens’ Christmas-eve spirits to watch his own shadow stumble down Raleigh’s Hillsborough Street strip — only to stop short of the darkness and turn toward the light:

And love can mend your heart,
But only if you’re lucky now.

“Lucky Now” also gets prominent play in director Judd Apatow’s new romantic comedy “This Is 40,” a movie featuring an onscreen appearance by Ryan as himself. That was reason enough for me to see the film, but it was still a mixed experience. “This Is 40” doesn’t tell a story so much as overwhelm the viewer with endless wisecracks, banter and over-the-top assholery, much of which made me cringe even as I laughed out loud. While it’s likable enough, this isn’t the sort of film that sticks with you. The characters never get any deeper than paper-thin, and Apatow doesn’t seem to have anything particularly revelatory to say about encroaching middle age. If I were giving it a grade, it would fall somewhere in the B-/C+ range; decent date-night fare, that’s all.

But the Ryan Adams faithful will still want to see “This Is 40” because our hero’s music plays a prominent Greek-chorus role. About 45 minutes in, leads Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann attempt to rekindle the spark of their relationship with a romantic weekend get-away, set to Ryan’s “Shining Through the Dark” (which he played on “Conan” last week). And the movie ends with Rudd and Mann watching Ryan onstage, playing “Lucky Now” as a benediction.

It’s nice — and also a better closing note than the movie deserves.

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