Unless you’ve done time in the military or driven to the beach from the Raleigh vicinity, chances are good you’ve never been anywhere near Ryan Adams’ birthplace of Jacksonville, North Carolina. And while Greater Jacksonville is not without its charms, it still seems like the sort of town most people want to flee at the earliest opportunity. That was certainly the case for Ryan, who (as recounted in the “Before” segment of “Losering”) ran away to Raleigh the first chance he got.
So if you’re wondering what Jacksonville looks like, Bob Fenster and friends at the Facebook group Theme Music have put together a nice little video tour. They’ve covered “Inn Town,” kickoff track to the signpost Whiskeytown album Strangers Almanac, accompanied by visuals taken from some YouTube videos shot in Jacksonville. Check it out here.
The combination of the landscape shots of scenery (and lack thereof) with “Inn Town”‘s forlorn vibe nails Jacksonville’s transitory facelessness perfectly; it’s a place nobody goes to, just passes through. And the final minute, shot from a car traversing the Highway 24 main drag, evokes pretty much exactly what it feels like to drive through there and wonder about the individual stories behind the desolate storefronts.
Back before I crossed paths with Ryan, I remember passing through Jacksonville and asking myself: Who lives here?…
Happy Good Friday to all you fine people, and it is a good Friday. How good? Well, I’ve never had anyone upload a Youtube video especially for me before — until now. So God bless my fellow Ryan Adams fan Jeff Mullins for taking the trouble, and doing a bang-up job to boot. It’s all one take and 21 minutes of him playing really good versions of a half-dozen Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown songs; and I’m delighted to report that the playlist includes two of my favorite “lost” Ryan songs from the fall of ’99, “Oh My Sweet Valentine” and “Hey There, Mrs. Lovely” (see Chapter 11 of “Losering” for some babble about both).
On Twitter the other day, I saw someone pose a rhetorical question: Was Ryan Adams ahead of his time or is it just coincidence that 1000 bands sound like him now? That’s pretty funny, given that the rap on Ryan has always been that he’s too retro and/or little more than the sum of his influences. And yet he has kept on keepin’ on, building up a body of work and a presence to the point that it seems like every emotional singer-songwriter who comes along nowadays is “RIYL Ryan Adams.” I must see that description several times a week, at least.
One such act following in Ryan’s wake is Ed Sheeran, a young singer-songwriter who is still more popular in his native England than in America (although touring as Taylor Swift’s opening act this year should raise his U.S. profile a good bit). Oddly enough, it almost seems like he’s shadowing Ryan. Sheeran was on the Grammy Awards telecast last month playing with Elton John, one of Ryan’s big fans and benefactors; and while Sheeran has yet to cover a Ryan song as far as I know, he did cover Oasis’ “Wonderwall” — a song Ryan also covered (and earned a Grammy nomination for) a decade ago on Love Is Hell.
So here, give ’em a comparison. Which version do you like better: Ed’s, or Ryan’s? I don’t pretend to be an impartial observer here, and I do find both quite pleasant. Nevertheless, I do feel like Ryan’s version has…more there there. Ed’s version is nice enough, a pretty rendition of a song I like; it’s almost placid. Meanwhile, Ryan’s “Wonderwall” has more raw emotion, revealing pockets of shell-shocked despair not to be found in either the Oasis original or Sheeran’s cover.
It ain’t easy, being the Next Ryan Adams. But Sheeran appears to be managing: His “Wonderwall” has more than 3.7 million Youtube views.
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”?
I don’t know quite what to make of this, beyond finding its earnestness utterly charming — a young man named Joshua Kirk (YouTube handle MrBiggestdisneyfan), holding forth about the finer points of Ryan’s 2005 Cold Roses album and revealing that he pays very, very close attention to the credits in liner notes. Anyway, check it out; looks like Ryan is making some inroads into another generation of fans.
ADDENDUM: Followup from Lefsetz, including Ryan’s response via twitter. I’d be honored, too!