Posts Tagged With: Prisoner

Ryan Adams and “The Voice”

RyanTheVoiceRyan Adams has never seemed like a singing-contest kind of guy, but he’s had quite a run on the season of NBC’s “The Voice” that just concluded. The most high-profile instance was Tuesday night’s finale, where Ryan showed up decked out in a Sonic Youth T-shirt and (in a bit of rich irony) performed with his fellow North Carolina native Britton Buchanan. They did “To Be Without You,” one of my favorite songs from Ryan’s Prisoner album.

Buchanan is all of 18 years old and never quite reached the song’s bereft core, but he did fine opposite Ryan. In the wake of this performance, I would not be surprised if someone in Nashville was working up a full-on country version of “To Be Without You.” And while Buchanan showed a lot of prime-time poise, he ultimately fell just short of the brass ring — to an even younger contestant. Buchanan came in second behind 15-year-old Bryn Cartelli.

Will either of them have a career beyond the show? Stay tuned because stranger things have happened.

While Tuesday was Ryan’s first appearance on “The Voice,” it was actually the second time this season that he’s been there in song. Last month, contestant Dylan Hartigan took a crack at singing Ryan’s Heartbreaker-era standard “Come Pick Me Up,” with mixed results. But that was at least a nice paycheck for old Raleigh hand Van Alston.

Watching this from afar has been…well, weird.

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Best review ever of Ryan Adams’ “Prisoner”

Forget every other review of Ryan Adams’ latest album Prisoner, including mine — here’s the best review you’ll find anywhere. It’s by Joshua Kirk, a young man who has reviewed Ryan’s work before in his “Album of the Day” series. I love it, and you will too, so check this out. Well worth the half-hour it lasts.


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Come Dancing (with the women at the bar)

BruxesThe first time I heard Rachel Hirsh perform her spooky version of Whiskeytown’s “Dancing With the Women at the Bar” was just over two years ago, at 2015’s “Losering 2: A Tribute to the Songs of Ryan Adams” show. It really was fantastic and I said as much at the time, writing that I thought it was something “she really should record.” I wasn’t the only one who thought so, and I’m happy to report that Rachel has indeed recorded a very fine version with her band Bruxes  — which is now out in the world; you can take a listen on Spotify, and buy it on Amazon.

The original version of “Dancing,” of course, first appeared on Strangers Almanac, Whiskeytown’s alternative-country landmark, which was released on July 29, 1997. That makes this Saturday the album’s 20-year anniversary, and we’re going to mark the occasion in style. That night, Raleigh’s Deep South The Bar will host “Losering 4,” with Antique Hearts playing Strangers Almanac from start to finish — which they pulled off with amazing aplomb last year, so it should be great. David Burney, Christiane, Eric Scholz, Garland Mason, Bobby Bryson and Ryan Kennemur are all on the bill, too, and yours truly will be there to serve as host.

Tickets are $7-$10, with proceeds again earmarked for the Food Bank of Eastern and Central NC. Come on out.



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Twenty years after: “Losering 4”

Losering4Next month will make (gulp) 20 long years since Whiskeytown released its 1997 alternative-country landmark Strangers Almanac, and we’ll be marking the anniversary in style with another “Losering”-themed tribute show. Scheduled for July 29 — which was indeed the  release date for Strangers back in 1997 — “Losering 4” will feature Antique Hearts in a reprise of last year’s “Losering 3” show, when they played Strangers from start to finish with stunning precision.

Also on the bill will be David Burney, Christiane, Eric Scholz, Garland Mason, Bobby Bryson and Ryan Kennemur, all playing other songs from Ryan’s catalog over the years. If I may be so bold as to make a request, I’m hoping for a song or two from this year’s Prisoner.

I’ll be there to serve as host, of course, and the proceeds will benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC. So pencil in July 29 for Deep South the Bar, and get tickets here.

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Ryan Adams’ “Prisoner” — Crazy 8’s

DRACWAK.jpgIn terms of reviews, Ryan Adams’ Prisoner stands as his best-received album in quite some time, picking up glowing notices far and wide (even from the likes of cynical old me). But all that acclaim has not translated into a U.S. chart breakthrough, at least not yet.

In the March 11 Billboard 200 album-sales chart, Prisoner debuts at No. 8 with 45,000 copies sold, which puts him right behind veteran R&B man Charlie Wilson and ahead of Alison Krauss. A top-10 debut is a good showing, but this is still short of the No. 4 debut and peak of 2014’s Ryan Adams, which also sold 45,000 copies in its first week in September 2014; as well as his Taylor Swift 1989 tribute, which opened with 56,000 copies out of the gate in September 2015 to debut/peak at No. 7.

Of course, when it comes to sales figures and chart positions, the long game of where you finish is ultimately a lot more important than where you start. Ryan Adams debuted high but quickly dropped off the charts, eventually selling 134,000 copies in its first year of release. 1989 followed a similar pattern and hit 115,000 in sales.

We’ll see where Prisoner stands a year from now.

UPDATE (3/7/2017): So far, Ryan’s debut-high-and-fall-fast pattern is holding true to form. Week two finds Prisoner plummeting all the way down to No. 54 on the March 18 Billboard 200.

UPDATE #2 (3/14/2017): Falling even faster — down to No. 132 in week three, the March 25 chart.

UPDATE #3 (3/21/2017): Well, that was quick! After just three weeks on the Billboard 200, Prisoner falls all the way off and is nowhere to be found on the April 1 chart.

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Ryan Adams: Doomsday comes

doomsdayPerhaps the timing is entirely coincidental, but it’s hard not to take this as commentary on what is going to happen at noon (Eastern Time) today. At any rate, now is when Ryan has chosen to unveil “Doomsday” — the aptly titled third single from his upcoming album Prisoner. And while I hadn’t previously thought of “Doomsday” as a political song, its stoic references to standing together as the world collapses in flames seem appropriate on this uneasy day. Take a listen below.

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Whiskeytown reunion? Don’t count on it

wtLike any sensible person, I do my best to resist click-bait in all its forms. But here’s a headline that I just could not resist:

Ryan Adams Says Whiskeytown Might Actually Get Back Together

What a wonderful world this would be if such a thing were possible. I cannot imagine it ever happening (although, if it did, I sure as heck would be lobbying University of Texas Press about updating “Losering”). Anyway, this came up in an interview with Ryan where the primary subjects were his upcoming Prisoner album and current studio project with Liz Phair. And here is what he said in response to a question about whether or not Whiskeytown might someday reunite:

“Well I mean maybe. It’s so funny that you mention [Whiskeytown] because there is something going on with that, but it’s still kind of on the down low,” Adams said. “Some of the folks that were in the band, and myself, feel like we have such funny stories to tell about how and in what way all of that happened and it was so funny it happened to US and I think we were all acutely aware, going ‘Wow, not only are we unprepared, but we suck on some level that we’re also aware of, and we were just having fun, so how do you temper that?’ Also being so young and so green to the thing that is the music business. It’s very strange to think that was sort of a side thing we were just trying out and that would’ve been the first sort of trip. I’m funny in the way where I have a dry sense of humor, and I think I’m probably a little bit more sarcastic than people can realize, especially in print, and I once in a humorous sort of way but I sort of meant it, I said ‘Oh i hate country music’ and there were a lot of purists that said, ‘Oh Ryan Adams has forgotten where he came from.’ Ironic baseball hats across America were probably chiming in on some message board somewhere and I thought, ‘yeah but that’s a funny statement to make cause it’s still pretty rooted in what I do — that sort of Grateful Dead, [Gram], The [Byrds] — finding those influences. I love the storytelling and I love what it is, but I think it’s been so long now if Whiskeytown were to ever try to make a record, and me carrying on with making the music I made from the beginning, before those sort of side things, it would be weird. It could be weird good but I don’t know. If it was the original lineup. We talk every year, a couple times a year. Everybody’s cool. It’s the same as it ever was.”

Same as it ever was, huh? Okay, then, here’s hoping.

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Ryan Adams’ “Prisoner” as canvass

andyaaronartMy eldest son Aaron is really good at a bunch of things I’m pretty terrible at, like writing poetry. And where I can’t hardly draw a straight line, Aaron is quite adept at drawing, too, rendering semi-surreal figures that look like outlines for the sort of paintings that Chris Mars has done over the years. In this, I think Aaron might take after his uncle, my brother Andy Menconi, a crackerjack multi-media artist and musician (whose heartbreakingly adorable daughter Cleo is also a rising star).

Anyway, Aaron dashed off a sketch inspired by the cover of Ryan Adams’ upcoming album Prisoner (based on the alternative apple version) and gave it to me for a Christmas present, and I really like it. So before framing and hanging it, I took a picture, which is below. At right is what it looks like on the wall alongside a few of Andy’s cartoons; Aaron did the two on the bottom.


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Ryan Adams on the record for his record

drainstagramprisonerA few days before Ryan Adams’ next album was to be released on its original Nov. 4 street date, word got out that it had been postponed for reasons unknown. Eventually, Feb. 17 was set as the new D-Day. But that didn’t stop bootleg versions of Prisoner from leaking out and showing up online in early December. By now, Prisoner has been heard and discussed enough that I decided to go ahead and publish my take on it, even though the album won’t be “officially” released for close to two months. My feeling is, no harm no foul — if someone still hasn’t heard it, wants to wait and keep their listening experience untainted by anyone else’s opinion, well, my review is certainly easy enough to avoid.

It’s worth noting, however, that Ryan himself strongly disapproves of this whole business of Prisoner being in premature circulation. Right around the time that Prisoner’s songs began appearing online, he published a plea via Instagram imploring people to wait and buy the thing when it actually comes out. But given the rabid loyalty of the DRA fanbase, I doubt the leaked version of Prisoner will cut into his sales too much; the people listening now will probably be the first to buy it as soon as it becomes available. And while I have some sympathy for Ryan’s viewpoint (especially since I’ve been bootlegged myself), there’s still no un-ringing that bell once something is out there.

Anyway, below is what he had to say about it.

I know you can stream this record 
I don’t know to stream records, personally 
It’s worth it to buy this. It’s worth it to buy a record you can hold, so you can feel it exist. So that you can have a moment with that record in a room. So it can age with you.
MOST IMPORTANTLY!!! It will help us get shit tons more lasers, keep our crew and band paid, keep us on the road 
ART MATTERS! THERE IS HOPE THERE. It’s a place for us to dream togeher.
But no matter what, no matter how you listen… Thank you. You’re the smartest, most unpretentious, sweetly brash misfit toy bunch of fans an unsophisticated spazz like me could ask for. This thing we built, YOU guys, these songs, our crew, the bands… It’s a blessing. It’s the MOST metal sad music is ever gonna get. And I am gonna be here with you Til I can’t do it anymore. We need this shit back home right now and I’m ready to throw down and bring the dream. LETS DO THIS!
Maybe I’ll have that custom Strat done by then ; ) 
Maybe even than custom pedal!!! ; )


Happy Holidays: PEACE 

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Ryan Adams shivers and shakes again

drapI think it was this past March when I decided once and for all that I was finally over Ryan Adams. It was after seeing him play at South By Southwest, the first show of his I’d seen in more than a decade and one where I went in expecting an emotional experience. But it really wasn’t. I mean, it was fine — and that’s all, just fine. Yeah, there were a few tug-at-the-heartstrings moments for us old-timers. But most of it felt like a lunch date with a long-ago ex where I had to finally admit that my fond old memories were nothing more than that, memories, and so far in the past that they just weren’t relevant anymore.

The whole experience seemed like a signal that Ryan really had moved on, and I should do the same. That feeling deepened a few months later when Ryan was in the papers excitedly describing his upcoming album as an unholy cross between AC/DC, ELO, BTO, The Smiths and Bruces Hornsby and Springsteen, which sounded like it would be another record along the lines of 2014’s stillborn Ryan Adams (an album I found to be a true test of faith). Then I heard its first song, “Do You Still Love Me,” which gave no cause for optimism. So I had zero expectations when an advance copy of Prisoner came my way a few weeks ago. My plan was to give the album just enough of a listen to dismiss it well in advance of the Feb. 17 release date, chalk it up as one more to ignore and get on with my life.


…somehow, against all odds, Prisoner is actually really, really good. Not just good but great, the best album Ryan has managed in well over a decade. I’ve been binging on it for weeks now, too, and it’s holding up. All of which makes for a turn of events that I find, well, shocking. It’s not that I thought Ryan no longer had greatness in him — his 2014 one-off single “Jacksonville” still stands as frustrating proof that he has all along — but that I had resigned myself to the fact that he’d never do another album that rang my bell the way he did with those old Whiskeytown records I wrote about in “Losering.”

Ryan being Ryan and me being me, it should come as no surprise that I have a minor quibble or two. Regrettably, the funereal “Do You Still Love Me” remains in the album’s pole position as track number one (although that does make it easy to skip — bonus!). And man, do I still wish he’d give the ’80s-sounding reverb a rest and put that voice God gave him all the way out front more often, dry and unadorned. But that aside, Prisoner is fantastic and evokes a vibe similar to Ryan’s dark 2003-2004 masterpiece Love Is Hell.

Love Is Hell emerged from some profoundly heavy real-life trauma, including the 2002 cancer death of Ryan’s girlfriend Carrie Hamilton. Similarly, the end of Ryan’s marriage to Mandy Moore casts a long and despairing shadow over Prisoner — and the context makes all the sense in the world. I initially found Ryan Adams to be a turnoff because of its musical blankness, but that actually proved to be a good sonic fit for what we now know about Ryan’s emotional state when it was being made (Ryan and Mandy reportedly separated some time before their split was announced a few months after the release of Ryan Adams). In retrospect, 2011’s Ashes & Fire now sounds like contentment with a slight tinge of complacency, leading to Ryan Adams’ depiction of scenes from a dying marriage, with Ryan coming around to the realization that he’d been going numb over time without even realizing it. His subsequent Taylor Swift 1989 tribute felt like a wallow in the depression of it all; and now Prisoner is the equivalent of pulling a scab off and letting the wound underneath air out. From “Broken Anyway”:

It was broken it was fake
I just close my eyes and shake
Last chance before it slips away
Throw it all away
Can’t go back again, what was whatever it became?
Whatever we were, we’ll still be together in some ways.

It’s hard truth and it hurts, but it feels like action borne of clarity and focus. Ryan sounds more like himself (or the person this listener imagines him to be, anyway) than he has in years. The album’s overall tone is subdued but with a few interludes of release and even catharsis, like the thunderous dive-bombing guitar solo that ends the album-closing “We Disappear” — which dissolves into the sound of faint laughter, supposedly from Mandy Moore herself. “We Disappear” seems like an acknowledgement that it isn’t either individual who is disappearing, but the life they had together.

Was I wrong, am I still?
Nobody gets it
And nobody ever will
You deserve a future and you know I’ll never change
We disappear and we fade away.

I think my favorite part of Prisoner falls right in the middle, tracks five and six, starting with “Shiver and Shake” — which has a quietly murmuring, drive-all-night momentum similar to Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. hit “I’m on Fire.” Ryan’s narrator imagines seeing his love with someone else, “laughing like you never even knew I was alive.” And he sounds shocked, not so much at the pain as the realization that he’s still capable of feeling this much pain. Oh, so this is what that feels like… “Shiver and Shake” fades into “To Be Without You,” spare and stoic and graceful, with lyrics that feel like a chunk of his heart carved out and set to music.

Everything you lose will always come find its way out
Every night is lonesome and is longer than before
Nothing really matters anymore…

He sounds utterly bereft yet also matter-of-fact about accepting his lot, seemingly believing it’s what he deserves — and it crushes me every single time I hear it. I just want to give the poor guy a hug and a mug of hot chocolate. Damn, Ryan. Come home sometime and the cocoa’s on me.

I really hate to say this, because it’s not a burden I would wish on anyone. But… Ryan really does seem to be at his best when he’s most forlorn. That is emphatically the case for Prisoner, an album I still can’t quite believe exists — one with real emotional stakes, that really does feel like life or death. I’m blown away.

And just like that, I’m back in love.

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