Posts Tagged With: Strangers Almanac

“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.

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Putting the anger in “Strangers Almanac”

Last night, I threw out a very silly (even by my standards) status on my Facebook page:

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Lots of folks replied with variations — “laughter in manslaughter,” “fun in fundamentalism,” “punk in punctual” and even “bomp in the bomp bomp bomp” — which made for some fun back-and-forth. But my favorite response by far came from Phil Wandscher, Ryan Adams’ old left-handed guitar foil in Whiskeytown, who made reference to his former band’s 1997 magnum opus:

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To that I say: Amen.

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Ryan Adams can’t fly or sink or swim

Last time I saw a Ryan Adams performance, this past March at South By Southwest, the setlist had no Whiskeytown songs. That’s pretty typical nowadays for Ryan, who rarely revisits his former band’s catalog. But every now and then, Ryan will dust off one of those old “Losering”-era songs just for the heck of it. Here’s one I just now belatedly happened across, from a 2014 show in Milwaukee — a version of the Strangers Almanac song “Yesterday’s News,” recorded with The Shining and complete with the namecheck tribute to one of the finer now-defunct nightspots in Ryan’s long-ago hometown of Raleigh. That made me smile.

“See you at the Comet,” indeed.

 

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Losering 3: Somebody Remembers the Rose

LoseringBoardWhile I wouldn’t exactly call it a headphones record, I’ve always considered Whiskeytown’s 1997 magnum opus Strangers Almanac to be more of a private home-listening experience than a live-performance artifact. It’s a truly brilliant album and one of my favorites, but it also has enough radical shifts in tempo, tone, mood and instrumentation to seem truly daunting to pull off onstage.

Nevertheless, I’m here to tell you that Raleigh’s Antique Hearts absolutely nailed it Friday night at our third “Losering” tribute show at Deep South The Bar. Playing the album start to finish and in order, they pulled off everything with an aplomb that left me awestruck, even the album-closing “Not Home Anymore” (which frontman Zach Gregory jokingly called “a studio song”). I cannot imagine how much work it took to get to this level; everyone involved did the material and themselves proud.

So did the opening acts, who both played some non-Strangers Ryan Adams songs. Shane Smith went deep into the catalog with “Wish You Were” from 2003’s unjustly maligned Rock n Roll, and also worked in Ryan’s arrangement of the Taylor Swift 1989 song “Shake It Off.” Ryan Kennemur went deeper still (assisted by Stacy Chandler in the role of vocal/fiddle foil) into the way-back Whiskeytown catalog with “Desperate Ain’t Lonely” and even “Lo Fi Tennessee Mountain Angel.”

All in all, it was another lovely evening, and it raised $724 for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. I expect we’ll do this again next year on or about the same date, July 29, for the 20-year anniversary of Strangers Almanac. Thanks to Dave Rose, John Booker and the rest of the Deep South staff for making it happen — and to Antique Hearts, who put a massive amount of work into getting this right and did it brilliantly.

AntiqueHearts

Shane Smith
“Firecracker”
“Wish You Were Here”
“Touch, Feel & Lose”
“My Winding Wheel”/”Shake It Off”
“To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High”

Ryan Kennemur with Stacy Chandler
“Starting to Hurt”
“I Don’t Care What You Think About Me”
“Angels Are Messengers From God”
“Desperate Ain’t Lonely”
“Bar Lights”
“Don’t Wanna Know Why”
“Lo Fi Tennessee Mountain Angel”
“If He Can’t Have You”

Antique Hearts, Strangers Almanac
“Inn Town”
“Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight”
“Yesterday’s News”
“16 Days”
“Everything I Do”
“Houses on the Hill”
“Turn Around”
“Dancing With the Women at the Bar”
“Waiting to Derail”
“Avenues”
“Losering”
“Somebody Remembers the Rose”
“Not Home Anymore”
Encore: “Drank Like a River”

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Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight

Losering3As covered at length in “Losering” as well as on this very blog, Whiskeytown’s 1997 masterpiece Strangers Almanac is an album I’ve never quite gotten over. Alas, Ryan Adams doesn’t seem to have much use for it himself these days, as evidenced by the fact that his current live setlist doesn’t include a single Strangers song (which is too bad, because those songs would fit his current bluegrass direction perfectly). Nevertheless, Strangers still means a great deal to a lot of Ryan’s oldest fans — especially those of us in his long-ago hometown of Raleigh, where it remains an essential local-music artifact.

This Friday, July 29, marks 19 years to the day since Strangers Almanac was first released, but I very much doubt that Ryan will mark the occasion in any way. So what the heck, we’ll do it for him. Friday night, Raleigh nightspot Deep South The Bar will host another “Losering”-themed tribute show, with Raleigh’s own Antique Hearts and friends playing all 13 Strangers tracks. Opening the proceedings will be Ryan “Showtime” Kennemur (veteran of the first two “Losering” events, in 2013 and 2015) and Shane Smith; yours truly also returns to serve as MC.

With proceeds earmarked for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, it’s for a good cause. So come on out and sing along if you’re in the vicinity, or even if you’re not.

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Save the date: July 29 for “Losering 3”

Losering3Next month will bring the 19-year anniversary of Strangers Almanac, Whiskeytown’s 1997 magnum opus and one of the great albums in Raleigh’s local-music history. To mark the occasion, there’s going to be another “Losering”-themed tribute show, put on once again by the fine folks at downtown Raleigh nightspot Deep South The Bar.

This will be the third such tribute show, following very successful “Losering” events in 2013 and 2015. And this year’s model features the band Antique Hearts playing Strangers start-to-finish — plus Ryan “Showtime” Kennemur from Dragmatic, Shane Smith and more.

We’ll have more details closer to the date. For now, please note that proceeds will again benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. So mark your calendar, and come on out.

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Echoes of “Strangers Almanac”

WorldCafeNot sure why this particular artifact popped up today — maybe because of all the hideous things happening in North Carolina right now, and they figured we could use a break — but public radio station WXPN has resurrected a World Cafe broadcast from 1997, “Sense of Place North Carolina: Whiskeytown.” Dating back to shortly after Mike Daly‘s arrival in the lineup as a sideman, it features about three minutes of excruciating small talk followed by performances of five songs: “16 Days,” “Somebody Remembers the Rose,” “Too Drunk to Dream,” “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart” and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”

This was recorded at WXPN during the Strangers Almanac tour, not much more than a month before Phil Wandscher’s departure from Whiskeytown. Not surprisingly, the vibe is…tense. Check it out here.

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Another landmark from Ryan’s Raleigh disappears: IHOP

IHOPDuring the Whiskeytown era, the mid-to-late 1990s, downtown Raleigh was still pretty much a ghost town after dark. Before downtown became the place to be, the center of Raleigh nightlife was a couple of miles west, along Hillsborough street — a strip that included Sadlack’s, the Brewery, Comet Lounge and other watering holes. And for late-night munchies, there was the 24-hour International House of Pancakes at the corner of Hillsborough and Park, near St. Mary’s School.

As often as not, following a Whiskeytown or Backsliders show at the Brewery, some of us would wind up at IHOP for 3 a.m. victuals before heading home. I paid tribute to that in chapter eight of “Losering,” the one about Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac album, by having young Ryan stumble into IHOP in the midst of that chapter’s imagined dark-night-of-the-soul narrative.

But time marches on. Recent years have seen Hillsborough street undergo a radical makeover with traffic circles, while Sadlack’s and the Brewery have both fallen to the wrecking ball to make way for fancy hotels and student housing. And now a similar fate awaits IHOP, which is closing this week for a still-to-be-determined redevelopment project. The small lot IHOP occupies is worth more than $500,000 now, so this was inevitable.

With the Brewery no longer there to draw me in that direction late at night, I’ve not eaten at IHOP in years. Still, I’ll miss seeing that bright blue roof — which was one more marker of the small town Raleigh used to be.

ADDENDUM (5/2/2016): Not quite one month later, the blue is off the roof and it looks like it won’t be long before the whole thing is torn down.

 

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SECOND ADDENDUM (6/17/2016): But at least the Hillsborough Street IHOP will live on in memory in a Needle Print by Caitlin Cary. This has been purchased by the mayor’s office, too.

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Postcards from the edge

There’s a scene in the Oscar-winning movie “Spotlight” that almost made me gasp when I saw it — the one where a couple of Boston Globe reporters go rifling through a stack of directories in the paper’s basement. But that reaction was less about the events than the setting. Like most newspapers, the News & Observer has a messy room just like that down in the basement, and it looked so familiar I’d swear they filmed that scene right here in Raleigh.

A wide swath of my personal archive, such as it is, is stashed in the N&O’s basement morgue in a half-dozen big boxes overflowing with old cassette tapes, records, compact discs, press releases, photos and various odds and ends. Today, I had occasion to go rooting around there in search of something, when I came across an old Whiskeytown promotional artifact I’d forgotten I had — the postcard below showing “The Route to Whiskeytown,”  which the band’s record label was sending out to journalists in advance of 1997’s Strangers Almanac album (along with, ahem, bottles of whiskey). That year was a heady time for Ryan Adams as well as local music in general; check chapter 7 of “Losering” for more about that.

Contemplating this postcard two decades on, it’s interesting to contemplate the reference-point buttons that Outpost Records hoped to push: from Gram Parsons and Tom Petty down South to the Replacements up North and Camper Van Beethoven (?) out West, with the Meat Puppets in between. Meat Puppets, where the heck did that comparison come from?

Anyway, this postcard is something I had tacked up on my bulletin board for more than a decade before it got boxed up and sent downstairs to the basement seven years ago, when I had to move to a less-spacious corner of the N&O newsroom. I think I’ll find another place to put it up again.WTpostcard1

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Going deep on Come Pick Me Up, the new DRA archive

CPMUA number of Ryan Adams sites have come and gone in recent years, and you can find some of them at the Ryan Adams Reference Library link above. But a new one that shows particular promise in the online DRA fan landscape is Come Pick Me Up. Subtitled “The Ryan Adams Archive,” Come Pick Me Up is a worthy successor to the old RAA (which lives on in Facebook form) and Answering Bell (which is no more but was an invaluable fact-checking resource back when I was writing “Losering”). It’s also a nice compliment to Mega-Superior Gold.

Come Pick Me Up is the work of Michael Niebuhr, a dedicated and avid Ryan Adams fan from Copenhagen. He writes:

I’m a longtime Ryan fan going back to Whiskeytown’s “Strangers Almanac,” which is probably still my favorite album of his. I’m also an amateur songwriter (though non-practicing for the past five years due to parenthood), and I do software development for a living. So the actual coding of the site is a no-brainer. The only effort is the time that goes into adding the data. It is a big project for sure.

The idea is to cover everything: reviews, releases, recordings, interviews, collectibles, news, writings. I started the site in October with a group of “Superfans” — Luke O’Sheary, Thomas Bauer, Trond Andersen and Darren Combs — who supplied the initial data set (songs, shows, about 700 setlists), before I decided to take it solo after a few weeks. I aim to respect the wishes of Ryan and his organisation(s), and that’s why there’s no news about his divorce or girlfriends (which is the same story every time anyway), or unreleased recordings/bootlegs. I’m contemplating whether a forum will be a good idea, or just a place to slag the poor Shining.

As the site takes shape, it’s dawning on me how much material is out there. I want to “sweep Youtube” for Ryan content and do the same for concert reviews and photos. The possibility of connecting it all is too tempting not to reach for. I hope this site will grow into something great, a go-to source for Ryan fans — maybe even a place Ryan himself will check from time to time, such as to see what he played the last time he visited a city.

Eventually, there’ll be a credit section with a big “thank you” to Answering Bell, RAA and everybody who’s gone before, tracking the shows and setlists over the years. And to the tapers. And Ryan himself, of course. Somehow he never gets enough credit.

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