Posts Tagged With: Tom Petty

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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In the vicinity of greatness

CactusMusicIt’s always fun to see the company one’s book is keeping on actual retail book shelves out there in the world. So thanks and appreciation go out to Keith Willis for sending along this shot from an emporium called Cactus Music in Houston, Texas.

Looks like they’ve got “Comin’ Right at Ya” shelved betwixt and between Texas demigod Joe Ely’s 2014 novel “Reverb: An Odyssey” (a book Ely and I talked about a bit when I interviewed him last fall); the “Oddball Texas” guidebook to “Some Really Strange Places” in the Lone Star State — starting with the cover shot of The World’s Largest Cowboy Boots, which are just a few miles from where I grew up in San Antonio; “Bun B’s Rapper Coloring and Activity Book” by Shea Serrano; ex-Del Fuegos guitarist Warren Zanes’ much-acclaimed “Petty: The Biography”; and “I’ve Been Out There: On the Road with Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Little Richard bandleader Grady Gaines.

Honored to be in the vicinity, y’all.

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Ryan’s Grammy report

 

RyanGrammyLossWhen it comes to Grammy Awards, our man Ryan Adams has a mixed track record. He’s quite adept at scoring nominations, including this year; but for all that, he has yet to actually win one of the darned things. And it looks like he’ll have to wait another year for his breakthrough, because he’s coming up empty so far at this year’s awards. Most of the Grammys were presented at the pre-telecast “Premiere Ceremony,” from which Ryan emerged 0 for 2 — losing rock performance to Jack White (which I expected), and rock song to Paramore (I expected him to lose, but not to them).

Grammy57He’s got one more shot, at rock album. But given the competition — Beck, Black Keys, Tom Petty, U2 — he’s the longest of longshots there, too. Meantime, I’m live-blogging the festivities here, so do drop in. Ryan, it seems, is not the only North Carolina native striking out tonight.

UPDATE: Well, Ryan also didn’t win rock album, which went to Beck’s Morning Phase, leaving him 0-for-7 lifetime at the Grammys. The rest of North Carolina fared no better, going 0-for-14 on the night; even Eric Church didn’t take any of his four nominations in the country categories.

ADDENDUM (2/10/2015): This probably made Ryan really glad he’s not more famous than he already is.

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Ryan Adams picks up more Grammy glory

Grammy57Grammy Award nominations are being announced today, rolled out a few at a time on Twitter this morning before the full list is posted at 2 p.m. Eastern Time — and our man Ryan Adams is already up for two. Ryan Adams has been nominated for Best Rock album, while “Gimme Something Good” has been nominated for Best Rock Song.

This marks Ryan’s first multi-nomination year since 2002, when he picked up two nods for 2001’s Gold (Rock Album and Male Rock Vocal) and a third for his contribution to that year’s Hank Williams tribute album Timeless, “Lovesick Blues” (Male Country Vocal). He was also nominated for his 2003 cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” in the category of Solo Rock Vocal Performance; and producer Glyn Johns also picked up a nomination for Ryan’s 2011 Ashes & Fire album, as Best Engineered Non-Classical Album.

But for all that, Ryan has yet to win a Grammy and I’d say he’s not likely to win this go-round, either, given who he’s up against: Black Keys, Jack White, Beck and Paramore for song; and U2, Tom Petty, Black Keys and Beck for album. Black Keys look like early odds-on favorites in both categories.

Ryan Adams might well pick up another nod or two, so I’ll update as events warrant. The Grammys will be presented on Feb. 8.

UPDATE (2 p.m.): The complete nominations list is out and “Gimme Something Good” is also up for Best Rock Performance; which brings him to three for this year. But given that he’s up against a lot of the same acts — Beck, Black Keys and Jack White again, as well as Arctic Monkeys — I’m afraid he’s just as much of a longshot to win this one, too. Based on what he just posted, Ryan seems to agree:

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Chart me up

Well, it appears that Ryan Adams’ time on the U.S. charts with his current eponymously titled album was short despite the career-high debut. Ryan Adams (Pax Am/Blue Note Records) entered the Billboard 200 on Sept. 27 at a lofty No. 4, three notches higher than his previous personal best; but the album’s position has dropped every week since then. And on the Nov. 15 chart (the one topped by queen-of-the-universe Taylor Swift’s 1989), it’s all the way out of Billboard’s Top 200 after just seven weeks.

Ryan Adams has sold 82,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, so it hasn’t really reached beyond Ryan’s previously converted hardcore following. If the album is to see any further chart action, one of its songs will have to catch on at radio. But like Tom Petty’s A&R man from “Into the Great Wide Open,” I don’t hear a single.

VampiresBB156Meantime, the chart gods taketh away, but they also giveth. Even though Ryan Adams is gone from the Billboard 200, Ryan still gets one more week there thanks to his latest seven-inch EP “Vampires” — which debuts at a modest No. 156 on the Nov. 15 chart. Since “Vampires” is a limited-edition release, this will most likely be its only chart week. And given that “Vampires” also ain’t that good, I wish “Jacksonville” had been the indie seven-inch to make the chart instead.

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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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Reckoning with Ryan Adams’ new album

It’s complicated
I just don’t love you anymore…

— Ryan Adams, “Am I Safe” (2014)


One thing that writing “Losering” did for me was to underscore the futility of music journalism and criticism, especially album reviews. The book forced me to reconsider release-date-vintage things I’d thought and written about everything from the Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown discography in the harsh light of the present, a process that induced a cringe or two. While I think I was more or less right about most of the records, there were definitely some I had significantly underrated at first (especially Love Is Hell) or thought too much of (Rock N’ Roll). And as I was finishing up the book in the fall of 2011, Ashes and Fire came out and I overrated that one, too. I should not have been surprised; just because I was writing it in a book rather than a newspaper review, that didn’t make my snap judgment any more long-lasting.

Something else “Losering” emphasized was the futility of fandom: the fact that if you follow anybody long enough, they will surely disappoint you. Whether I should feel that way or not, I am disappointed in Ryan. I wish I didn’t feel that way because I hate being That Guy — the dock worker in Liverpool who liked The Beatles during their Cavern Club days but thought they sold out when they went on “Ed Sullivan.” Or the guy in Greenwich Village who thought Bob Dylan should have stuck with old folk songs. Or the dude in Asbury Park who thought Bruce Springsteen’s calling was to stay a bar-band journeyman. So maybe giving up what he had in order to get to where he is now was the right call for Ryan; perhaps his upcoming self-titled album will one day be mentioned in the same breath as Rubber Soul or Blonde on Blonde or Darkness on the Edge of Town.

But…I don’t think so.

RyanAdamsCoverSo anyway, yes, Ryan Adams (Pax Am/Blue Note Records) will be released next week; in the meantime, you can listen to a stream of it here, here, here, or here. A few reviews are starting to appear, because right around or even before release date is when outlets tend to be interested in running them. Never mind that the pre-release period, when a given artist does a bunch of interviews (usually saying some variation on the same thing in each one), tends to be the least-interesting part of a record’s life cycle. It’s just how the game goes.

At least Ryan has been his usual swaggering, quotable self in his latest round of interviews, covering all his by-now-obligatory recurrent bullet points. Drug use, check; disavowing outlandish behavior he has supposedly outgrown, check; references to his prolific nature by way of another high-profile addition to his stash of unreleased music, check; tantalizing suggestion that he might actually release one of his “lost” golden oldies, check; and through it all, Ryan’s insistence that he always just goes with the flow — check.

As for the record itself, whatever I think about it at this point, chances are good I’ll think something completely different a year from now. But you know me, I can never shut the hell up even when I know I should. So here are a few initial impressions based on several days of listening to Ryan Adams:

(1) This might be damning with faint praise, but at least Ryan Adams is better than I expected it to be based on the lead single “Gimme Something Good” — a song that I still find pretty ho-hum after a decent amount of listens over the past few months.

(2) Tom Petty’s shadow hangs heavily over this album, which is not an inherently bad thing because Tom Petty is really good. Multiple songs (most notably “Trouble” and “Stay With Me”) have wailing guitar leads echoing Petty’s 1980 signature hit “Refugee,” and the overall vibe and dynamics are very similar to Damn the Torpedoes-era Tom Petty. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Ryan Adams is a more engaging Petty album than Petty’s own current effort Hypnotic Eye. (ADDENDUM, 12/11/14: Stereogum agrees.)

(3) On the other hand, it pains me to say this, but other songs on Ryan Adams seem reminiscent of (God help me) Bryan Adams, especially “Feels Like Fire.” Now if you’re going to evoke Bryan Adams, “Run To You” would definitely be the right song for it. But still…Bryan Adams? Et tu, Ryan?

Elsewhere, “My Wrecking Ball” sounds like Whiskeytown’s “Avenues” as rewritten by Springsteen, while “I Just Might” sounds like a Springsteen demo. And speaking of popular rock-star dudes of a certain age evoked by this album, let’s see what Ryan’s old Whiskeytown bandmate Phil Wandscher thinks:

PhilRA

(4) It took me a while, but ultimately I decided that my main objection to Ashes and Fire was that it was a bit too subdued and monochromatic. While I wouldn’t call Ryan Adams jumpy or anything, it does vary tempos and textures enough to make me think I might someday prefer this one. But ask me a year or so from now.

(5) It’s tempting to read autobiography into anyone’s songs, but especially with someone like Ryan whose songs have been an open book for so much of his career. Maybe he’s turned over a new leaf, in which he’s no longer writing about himself. But if these songs are anything like an accurate reflection of his current mental state, he’s in a mighty grim place nowadays — and spending a lot of time in his own head. The opening couplet on the album, from “Gimme Something Good,” pretty much sets the tone: I can’t talk/My mind is so blank/So I’m going for a walk/I’ve got nothing left to say…

“I Just Might” is no cheerier: Everything’s broken/In my mind/Ain’t no place to run/Ain’t no place to hide. And “Shadows” likens the space between the singer’s ears to prison with a “field of razor wire” that “comes a little closer.” By the end, he’s “Tired of Giving Up” and decides to “Let Go.” And so he does.

(ADDENDUM (1/24/2015): In light of the two paragraphs above, this is not surprising.)

(6) 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.

And that, dear reader, is why I’m disappointed (though not quite as harshly so as this guy).

ADDENDUM (8/28/2015): I don’t agree with this, but it’s a good take.


EthanReckoningMeantime, I actually do have a current favorite Ryan record, sort of, an album that unobtrusively slipped into the marketplace last month. That would be The Reckoning (Three Crows Music) by Ethan Johns, a mate of Ryan’s who has produced a significant chunk of his post-Whiskeytown solo career (Heartbreaker, Gold and 29). In a role reversal, Ryan is listed as producer of The Reckoning and also credited with drums, bass, electric guitar, synthesis and “Trash can.”

There’s not much trashy about this, though. Understated and emotional, The Reckoning is a song cycle about a young immigrant on the frontier in pre-Civil War America. But never mind the storyline. This brooding little record has a lovely atmosphere that seems fragile but is powerful enough to linger and draw you in. Imagine Heartbreaker if Nick Drake had made it; take a listen here and see what you think.

I’ll keep listening to both these records, of course, and I’ll continue paying attention to Ryan for as long as he’s making music (yeah, even when he’s just goofing off). But down the road, I’m fairly certain that The Reckoning will be the record I’m still interested in hearing.

ADDENDUM (9/9/14): Ethan Johns interview.

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Ryan Adams wants something good — is that so wrong?

DRAGSGClose to a year later than most everyone in the DRA blogosphere expected (including me), Ryan Adams will apparently have his first new full-length album since 2011’s Ashes & Fire coming out this fall. Definitive details about this long-awaited followup remain sketchy, since most of the news that’s out there right now consists of different music blogs citing each other as sources without anything “official” from Ryan or his management. But here’s about the most detailed item I’ve seen so far, which cites Sept. 9 as release date for the self-titled Ryan Adams through Blue Note Records.

Preceding the album is a single, “Gimme Something Good,” due for release on July 1. I wish I could say I find it great, but…I’m afraid “Gimme Something Good” sounds more like a riff in search of a song than anything that will rank highly in Ryan’s catalog. It’s not bad, with a feel similar to the old Stevie Nicks/Tom Petty hit “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, thanks to the distinctive keyboard wash of longtime Petter sideman Benmont Tench (on whose recent solo album Ryan also played).  But so far it’s not rising beyond the level of workmanlike for me, and the lyrics certainly imply an unpromising sense of ennui on Ryan’s part:

I can’t talk
My mind is so blank
So I’m going for a walk
I’ve got nothing left to say…

Obviously, your mileage may vary, and here’s a fan-made video from the Ryan Adams Superfan page on Facebook; give it a listen and see what you think. Meantime, maybe it will grow on me…

ADDENDA (8/12-13/2014): Here is Ryan’s own “Gimme Something Good” video — starring Elvira! And here’s an explanation for why he didn’t put out an album in 2013, as expected: At great cost, he scrapped last year’s model. And here he is playing “Gimme Something Good” on Jimmy Fallon.

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