Posts Tagged With: Rural Free Delivery

Losering 2: Thank you, friends

L2BlackboardThe first “Losering” tribute show back in 2013 went so great, I had a hard time imagining a sequel could come anywhere close to matching it. But Saturday night’s “Losering 2: A tribute to the Songs of Ryan Adams” at Deep South the Bar was truly start-to-finish wonderful in every way. It raised $923.46 for the Food Bank of Eastern & Central North Carolina, and the music was so moving that I found myself misting up a good half-dozen times over the course of the evening.

Mark Cimerro started things off with two early-period Whiskeytown songs, which was fitting. Mark used to be proprietor of Sonic Wave, the Raleigh studio where Whiskeytown recorded the tracks that became the 1995 “Angels Are Messengers From God” EP (and later the 1997 album Rural Free Delivery). “Too Drunk to Dream,” featuring pedal steel by Dylan Ritter from Greensboro’s The Grand Ole Uproar, was particularly fine; and for a between-song bonus, Mark recounted how Ryan had taken all the pictures off the walls at Sonic Wave during the Whiskeytown sessions because he found the studio environs “too nice.” Oh, that Ryan.

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Rachel Hirsh destroying “Dancing With the Women at the Bar” — in the best way possible.

I got to host and introduce the bands, but there’s no way this show would have happened without the efforts of various members of I Was Totally Destroying It. Frontman John Booker booked the acts, helped stage-manage and performed himself; his version of “Somebody Remembers the Rose” was my first lump-in-the-throat moment of the night. IWTDI guitarist Curtis Armstead also ran sound and played (leading a nice “Come Pick Me Up” sing-along), and Rachel Hirsh’s version of “Dancing With the Women at the Bar” was a revelation that she really should record.

Also working hard was Aslan Freeman, who played his own set (props for “Turn Around,” especially) and backed up enough of the bill that he was onstage for a good chunk of the night. One person he played with was Kasey Tyndall, a young singer with a preternaturally big voice for a 19-year-old. She’s moving to Nashville soon and I expect you’ll be hearing a lot more from her before too long.

Other highlights: Ryan “Showtime” Kennemur and Taylor Adams from Dragmatic pretty much killing with “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight”; Keef Debonzo’s “Lucky Now,” another mist-up moment for me; Charles Marshall and Mike Ferguson from Balsa Gliders recreating “(Argument with David Rawlings concerning Morissey),” the spoken-word bit that opens Ryan’s Heartbreaker album; and the jaw-dropping voice of New Reveille’s Amy Kann. I tried shooting video of Amy singing “Easy Hearts” and the audio didn’t come out well enough to post; but check out New Reveille’s video here.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not usually onstage myself and if you were to ever hear me sing in public — which, to adopt the parlance of Taylor Swift, is so not going to happen, like, ever — you’d agree that’s a big, big net positive for the planet. But about halfway through the evening, Deep South co-owner Dave Rose called me from my side-stage MC perch to the center of the stage, to receive the plaque below. I had no idea that was coming, and I can’t tell you how touching it was. I’d already felt honored and humbled by the whole thing, and that put a nice capper on an amazing night. If you were there, you know. If you weren’t, well, you should’ve been.

All I can say is: Thank you, friends.

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“Losering 2” setlist

Mark Cimerro: “Tennessee Square,” “Too Drunk to Dream”

John Booker (I Was Totally Destroying It): “Somebody Remembers the Rose,” “Feels Like Fire,” “Two,” “When the Stars Go Blue”

Ryan Kennemur and Taylor Adams (Dragmatic): “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight,” “Drank Like a River,” “Houses on the Hill”

Curtis Armstead (IWTDI): “Trouble,” “Come Pick Me Up”

Stephen Chandler Wilson (The Arcane Heart): “Dance All Night,” “Blue Hotel”

Aslan Freeman (Future Ghosts): “Turn Around,” “Am I Safe,” “Anybody Want to Take Me Home”

Kasey Tyndall: “16 Days,” “Mirror Mirror,” “Don’t Wanna Know Why,” “New York, New York”

Keef and Dave Debonzo (Debonzo Brothers): “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” “Ballad of Carol Lynn,” “Lucky Now”

Rachel Hirsh (IWTDI): “Wolves,” “Gimme Something Good,” “Dancing With the Women at the Bar”

Members of New Reveille: “To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high),” “Easy Hearts”

Charles Marshall, Mike Ferguson (Balsa Gliders), Richard Bolton: “(Argument with David Rawlings concerning Morissey),” “Damn Sam (I love a woman that rains),” “Not Home Anymore”

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Holland calling: Too Country and Proud off it

DrifterCountryI recently happened onto another interesting little “Losering” reference from overseas, although it’s not a full-fledged review. This one is on a blog called DrifterCountry.com, which bills itself as “Too Country and Proud off it”; and no, that isn’t a typo — note the logo here on the right. Anyway, my book gets namechecked in a Whiskeytown mini-history posted by “The Drifter.”  It looks to be written in Dutch, if Google Translate is to be believed; the translation is below.

Between this and an earlier review, I’d say there’s a groundswell building for a translated edition of “Losering” in Dutch. So how about it, UT Press?

DrifterCountryWTPeriodic spent Drifter Country attention to bands that have meant a lot for the alt-country genre. The appearance of an English book: Ryan Adams, Lose Ring, a Story of Whiskeytown was for me a good reason to pay attention to a band that has meant a lot for the alt-country: Whiskeytown. The group was active from 1994 to 2001 and finally three studio albums failed. Faithless Street (1995), Strangers Almanac
(1997), and Pneumonia (2001). Established in 1994 in Raleigh, North Carolina with frontman Ryan Adams, Caitlin Cary, Phil Wall Cher, Eric Gilmore and Steve Grothman. But only Adams and Cary are featured on all three albums. The history of Whiskeytown’s turbulent called and the band structure is there only a limited part of. Already after the release of their first album Faithless Street on the Mood Food label get larger labels interested in Whiskeytown. Geffen Records signed the band and then in 1998 Faithless Street re-release. With the contract of Geffen pocket starts the tape recording of their first major release Strangers Almanac. During the recordings leave Gilmore and Grothman the group. Wall Cher makes the recordings but ultimately still get just after the appearance of Strangers Almanac from the band. The following is a messy period with many personnel changes that have an impact on the live sound of the band. But meanwhile Strangers Almanac well received by a wide audience and have magazines like Rolling Stone rave reviews. In this same year (1997) Mood Food brings an album titled Rural Free Delivery with remaining recording of the debut album Faithless Street. Whiskeytown continue touring and Ryan Adams shines in this period to more extreme behavior. The tensions in the band are up to a climax. In 1999 Whiskeytown Pneumonia on the album. It takes a while for the album finally in 2001 by Lost Highway Records is released. Whiskeytown is already history and Ryan Adams is widely acclaimed for its released in 2000, and never surpassed, solo album Heartbreaker.

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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.

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