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this from rollingstone:
Whiskeytown to Reunite
Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary reviving their alt-country band
Three years after disbanding, Whiskeytown are planning a reunion. The North Carolina-based band was founded in 1994 and went through a series of lineup changes before frontman Ryan Adams and singer/violinist Caitlin Cary splintered it to start solo careers. But Adams recently approached Cary and her husband/drummer Skillet Gilmore, who played with the band on its first album, 1996's Faithless Street, to talk about getting together again. "I always thought that this would happen, but I was thinking it would be five years from now," Cary says. "Ryan made a good point, 'Why wait until we're old and pathetic? We should have a reunion while we're all still young and vibrant.' It could be like a Neil Young, Crazy Horse kind of thing, where every five years we'd get together and make a record. It would be really fun to have Whiskeytown on the backburner in that way."
Adams addressed the Whiskeytown reunion on his Web site. "I'd like very much to go and work on some music with Caitlin and Skillet," Adams posted, "and seeing as we've been talking about it for a while now, why not? Caitlin has her own life now out there, and so do I, which would only make it more fun for both of us. I think it's time Whiskeytown make an actual record we like."
Whiskeytown's tumultuous run yielded three critically acclaimed albums that helped shove the alternative country movement to the brink of the mainstream. The band's swan song, released after its breakup, was 2001's Pneumonia, though Adams and Cary were the only original members left in the band at that point. Cary has released two albums, and Adams three, since the band called it quits.
"I've yet to rib Ryan about saying that Whiskeytown was a 'creative prison,'" says Cary. "Although in some ways it probably was for both of us. Now that I feel I know better what I'm doing and I have less of an agenda, it would be easier to do a collaborative thing. But it remains to be seen if we're better at collaborating -- it's fucking hard to be in a band."
(June 9, 2003)
just sweeping out the cobwebs...
as always: any and all contributions are welcome.
[or just drop me a line]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 27, 2003
CAITLIN CARY READIES NEW ALBUM, I’M STAYING OUT, ON YEP ROC SCHEDULED FOR APRIL 22 STREET DATE
Second Long Player from Whiskeytown Alumna, Produced by Chris Stamey, Features Guests Mary Chapin Carpenter, Greg Humphreys (Hobex), Audley Freed (Black Crowes), Mitch Easter, Thad Cockrell and Jane Scarpantoni
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Caitlin Cary is putting the finishing touches on her second full-length album, titled I’m Staying Out. The album follows last year’s acclaimed While You Weren’t Looking, called "the best recording yet to surface from the remnants of Whiskeytown" by No Depression magazine. Chris Stamey once again produced. Street date is set for April 22.
In crafting the album, Cary surrounded herself with longtime accompanists Jen Gunderman (piano, organ, accordion and vocals), Dave Bartholomew (acoustic and electric guitars, vocals), Brian Dennis (guitar) and Jon Wurster (drums and percussion.) Joining them for the record on bass, guitar and harmonies this time out was special guest Don Dixon (solo recording artist and producer whose credits include R.E.M., Marshall Crenshaw, the Smithereens and Dixon’s wife, Marti Jones.)
In addition, several artists made cameo appearances, including vocal harmonies by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Greg Humphreys (Hobex, Dillon Fence) and Thad Cockrell, guitar from Audley Freed (Black Crowes) and Mitch Easter (Let’s Active, producer of R.E.M.), and cello by Jane Scarpantoni (R.E.M., Beastie Boys and Nirvana.) Lee Smith (author of numerous novels, essays and short story collections, most recently the bestseller The Last Girls and numerous novels, essays and short story collections) contributed spoken word. John Plymale (Meat Puppets, Eyes Adrift, Superchunk, Squirrel Nut Zippers) engineered and did the lion's share of the mixing.
Cary is a founding member of Whiskeytown, in which she sang, wrote and played violin alongside bandmate Ryan Adams.
Reflecting on the making of the new album, Cary offers these thoughts: "We made what I believe is a big, colorful record. There’s a purple song and for sure a red song, and yellow, and several shades of green. So I guess it's safe to say there’s a lot of variety. There are complex stories in a lot of the songs, but not the sort that bog things down. I think a lot of energy runs throughout, so that even the sad or the poignant songs don't dwell in melancholy, and the songs with 'plots' will still be good listening after the story’s been digested."
A key progression between I’m Staying Out and its predecessor is that the new album benefits from the band’s road miles of the past year. "I think you can hear a band on this record," she says. "It was made by the touring group and there’s give and take that comes from us knowing and reacting to one another, which allows each instrument to take its proper place and really shine. From the earliest point of listening to basic tracks, we knew we had a solid record, because there was a fullness to the music that made overdubbing seem like a luxury instead of a necessity. We certainly had fun adding shimmer and unique musical characters with harmonies, horns, strings and clarinet -- but they feel like seasoning more than stock."
Among the songs on I'm Staying Out is "Empty Rooms," which emerged from Caitlin’s vision of what it might be like to have one's life really fall apart. "It’s not about breaking down, but about not being able to feel enough," she says. "It yielded a sort of driving, angry song, and that surprised me a little. I hadn't realized that the character would insist on sounding so forceful and direct." Another song, "Lorraine Today," is a fictionalized version of the life of someone Caitlin knows well. "What I'm hoping," she says, "is that it presents a clear picture without really beating home the plot -- it's more like a poem now, I think, and one which I hope will mean something a little different to each person who hears it." And "Please Break My Heart," co-penned with Thad Cockrell, emanated from Caitlin's "complaint" that her life was too relatively happy to inspire a country song. Thad went home and came up with the chorus hook "please break my heart." From there, she says, "We set out together to write the plainest, saddest country song we could muster. So the end result is this incredibly sweet-sad song about a character who would rather have the person she loves break her heart over and over again than let him go."
Adds producer Stamey: "On this album, Caitlin has combined honesty and romance, clarity and passion, in a way that makes you feel that this is not a contradiction but the natural state of things. This is a record for true believers."
I'm Staying Out follows 2002's While You Weren't Looking, which received some of that year's highest accolades. Entertainment Weekly wrote: "Trekking through love's badlands, (Caitlin's) rangy soprano is all hard-won confidence -- the sound of an erstwhile second fiddle claiming first chair." USA Today added: "Turns out Ryan Adams isn't the only talented alumnus of alternative-country deities Whiskeytown. The band's ex-violinist blossoms out from under Adams' prodigious shadow. Cary crafts charming and bittersweet Southern pop." And the Tennessean: "Cary is decidedly on her way, and it's a sign of how good Whiskeytown was that it may well have launched two noteworthy careers."
Plans call for a U.S. tour throughout the spring and summer months with dates to be announced shortly.
ryan and willie. & the gap.
also: sound clips for demolition are up on the losthighway site.
RYAN ADAMS' DEMOLITION TO HIT STORES SEPTEMBER 24
Lost Highway recording artist RYAN ADAMS will release Demolition, a collection of thirteen songs previously recorded over the course of the past ten months.
After sitting on stacks and stacks of tracks for over a year, the decision was made to assemble a "greatest hits" from the unreleased songs, a retrospective of a high-speed year in the life of a rising star ...of days between gigs ("Tennessee Sucks"), of matters of the spirit ("You Will Always Be The Same", "Hallelujah"), and mostly, of loves come and gone.
The collection of songs on Demolition marks the follow-up to the Lost Highway debut Gold, one of the ten best albums of 2001, according to the Village Voice critics' poll, and numerous national magazines across the country.
Demolition is being released just as Ryan goes into the studio to record his official follow-up to Gold.
Ryan will embark on a solo tour in support of Demolition for the month of October. Stay tuned for tour dates.
the tracklist for the new ryan adams record [demolition] is as follows:
you will always be the same
cry on demand
starting to hurt
she wants to play a game of hearts
gimme a sign
chin up, cheer up
jesus (don't touch my baby)
worth noting: september 28&29, austin,tx - the acl festival with caitlin cary & ryan adams both making appearances.
if you haven't picked up caitlin cary's amazing new While You Weren't Looking, by now, be careful you don't miss out on the limited edition bonus ep that comes with the record, which includes the gorgeous whiskeytown song, "the battle".
some caitlin press:
||the new yorker
"While You Weren't Looking" (Yep Roc Records) is the solo début by Caitlin Cary, a former violinist and backing vocalist for the alternative-country group Whiskeytown. The album has the feel of a group project; Cary gets songwriting help (from, among others, her former bandmate Ryan Adams) on all but one of the tracks and submits to the firm hand of the noted jangle-pop producer Chris Stamey. But Cary's solid alto, with its hints of Dar Williams and Emmylou Harris, keeps songs about missed opportunities, lengthy apologies, beloved ponies, and country fairs from descending into the cruel pit of country-music clichés. And such up-tempo, horn-driven pieces as "Too Many Keys" and the half-waltz, half-honky-tonk "Hold On to Me" lend the album just enough variety to warrant repeated listenings.
Whiskeytown's Caitlin Cary Records 'When You Weren't Looking'
By Wes Orshoski
It's funny. When the famously volatile Whiskeytown finally died a few years back, fiddle player/vocalist Caitlin Cary knew she wanted to at least try a solo career, but she held about half the confidence in her abilities that her friends and former bandmates had.
And that makes sense considering that -- through a friend -- she just kind of fell into the revered alt-country act while teaching part-time and pursuing a master's degree in creative writing at North Carolina State University. "I had absolutely no rock'n'roll fantasy whatsoever," Cary recalls. "When I got the call, I was like, 'Oh, cool, we'll have some fun on the weekends.'"
But during the two years since Whiskeytown's demise, Cary has slowly built faith in her own abilities while creating "When You Weren't Looking," her full-length solo debut, which arrives March 26 on Chapel Hill, N.C.-based independent label Yep Roc. "I sort of feel a little bit like I belong now," Cary says, noting that some days are better than others. "Some days, it's like when I had a teaching assistantship at N.C. State -- which basically means they stick you in freshman English -- and I got this feeling that somebody was gonna walk through the door and bust me and totally realize that I'm a fraud."
Helping boost her confidence was former Whiskeytown multi-instrumentalist Mike Daly, who co-wrote and played on most of the songs on this album. "For a really long time, he was the only person that I could write with, just because I knew him so well," says Cary. "It's a really brave thing for me to put a song to somebody. Because I don't play guitar or piano, I have to sit down and just sing it over and over again until they figure out the chords."
Increasing Whiskeytown's presence on the project is a pair of songs co-written by that band's former frontman, Ryan Adams, one of which -- the previously unissued Whiskeytown cut "The Battle," an Adams/Cary duet -- leads a four-track bonus disc found inside "When You Weren't Looking."
Caitlin Cary While You Weren't Looking [3½ stars]
Caitlin Cary's debut solo album, While You Weren't Looking, demonstrates that while her bad-boy band mate Ryan Adams was grabbing all the attention as Whiskeytown's frontman, she was writing dreamy folk-pop songs. Now the fiddler and harmony singer has created a formidable recording with the aid of fellow former Whiskeytown members -- guitarist Mike Daly, drummer Skillet Gilmore and bassist Mike Santoro -- with former Jayhawk Jen Gunderman on keyboards. Providing a varied backdrop to Cary's lilting alto, producer Chris Stamey goes from lush to spare, using everything from a horn section to a harmonium to wondrous effect. Cary's bittersweet reflections on fallen angels and women who love too much lend songs such as the heartbreaking "Sorry" and "Shallow Heart, Shallow Water" an aching, wistful quality, much in the vein of classic folk-rockers Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson. Picking up the tempo, the bouncy "Pony" has Cary's lovely voice sheathed in a Spector-esque setting, and the propulsive "Thick Walls Down" features a splendid he-said/she-said duet with singer Thad Cockrell. Two more duets can be found on a limited-edition bonus EP, featuring Adams ("The Battle") and Backslider Chip Robinson ("Keys to the Fair").
(RS 893 ¦ April 11, 2002)
lots of news and lots of great contributions today!
first off, if you missed wednesday's interview with ryan adams on WFUV, it will be rebroadcast tonight at 10pm [eastern time] on a related note, mark price contributes something new for the quotes page from this interview. thanks mark!
this comes from eric jacobsen: john allison, british cartoonish and huge ryan adams/whiskeytown fan, has a cameo character in his online cartoon strip, bobbins, this week. the great part is that the character is based on ryan adams. thanks eric!
thanks to ernie moran for the heads up on this...
||from ny post's page six:
Ode to Apple
The crowd packed into Irving Plaza to hear Ryan Adams was thrilled when Sir Elton John came onstage to jam with the 26-year-old alternative-country rocker. Elton first tickled the ivories as Ryan sang his own "La Cienega Just Smiled," The Post's Mary Huhn reports. Then Ryan donned glam sunglasses and sang Elton's "Rocket Man" to an ecstatic audience, while Elton played piano and sang along. Later, the rockers headed downtown to Niagara to celebrate into the early morning. Last night, Ryan, who lived on the Lower East Side for a couple of years, sang his ode to Manhattan on David Letterman's show.
and thanks to maggie lampach for these two articles...
Rising Stars Take Aim At Shortlist
By Glenn Gamboa.
The finalists for the first-ever Shortlist, a prize designed to honor creative and adventurous albums from artists who have yet to cross over to mainstream, gold-record status, show how eclectic and international American music has become. The nominees, announced yesterday, are: the French techno duo Air for "10,000 HZ Legend"; neo-soul singer Bilal for"1st Born Second"; power popsters the Dandy Warhols for "Thirteen Tales. From Urban Bohemia"; the American-British cartoon rap collective Gorillaz for "Gorillaz"; hip-hopper Jay Dee for "Welcome to Detroit"; fiery funk singer Nikka Costa for "Everybody Got Their Something"; British alt-rocker PJ Harvey for "Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea"; alt-country hero Ryan Adams for "Heartbreaker"; Icelandic atmospheric rockers Sigur Ros for "Agaetis Byrjun"; and socially conscious rappers Talib Kweli & Hi Tek for "Reflection Eternal."
Modeled after Britain's prestigious Mercury Prize, the Shortlist hopes to boost the career of an up-and-coming artist. The winner - chosen by insiders and artists such as Beck, Mos Def, Macy Gray, the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl, Aimee Mann, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, The Roots' Ahmir Questlove Thompson and Lucinda Williams - will be announced at a ceremony in Los Angeles later this fall.
The Life of Ryan
Alt-country singer-songwriter Ryan Adams distills the heartbreak of lost love on his new album 'Gold'
By Glenn Gambo
September 27, 2001
RYAN ADAMS plugs in Christmas lights as he talks. He's still trying to get acquainted with his new apartment in Chelsea, the place he landed in within days of deciding on a whim to move back to New York.
"It's kind of set up like a gymnasium," he said, laughing as he enjoys the lights. "Every little corner has something different to do.
"I can go here and play the piano. I can sit over there and work on my book. I can sit in that corner and smoke." For the hyper-productive alt-country singer-songwriter, that kind of setup works. After all, his new CD, "Gold" (Lost Highway), came out Sept. 18, and he's already got another one, a harder-edged collection with his band The Pink Hearts, almost done. He's also working on publishing his journal and a collection of short stories, when he's not getting ready for his upcoming tour, painting or producing an album for his friend Jesse Malin, formerly of D Generation.
"His album is so beautiful," Adams said. "I went with him to Columbia Records the other day to demand $15,000 for him. That's just the kind of guy I am."
Funny thing is, people know that's the kind of guy Adams is. They can hear it in his music. Last year's gloriously raw "Heartbreaker" CD cast the North Carolina native in a different light from his days as the hard-living singer of alt-country heroes Whiskeytown. Instead of make-believe honky- tonks and rockfish bravado, Adams rolled out touching stories like "Come Pick Me Up" or "Why Do They Leave," mostly about himself and a former girlfriend and their lives on the Lower East Side.
"With 'Heartbreaker,' I quit the other stuff," he said. "I stopped pretending. Does it make me a crazy person to write about myself? Well, then I'm crazy in the way that Arthur Miller's crazy, that William Faulkner is crazy. Yeah, I'm writing about myself, and there's not a hairline difference - there's a cement dam difference - between me and one of those people who stands on the red carpet and doesn't share anything. I can't pretend. I'm not going to write science fiction. I'm no Carl Sagan. I'm not Ted Koppel either. I'm an ever so slightly schizophrenic, like Oscar Wilde. I'm somewhere between Ted Koppel and Oscar Wilde."
For "Gold," he moved to Los Angeles and fell in love with another woman, and that relationship also ended, yielding the gorgeous, gospel-tinged "The Rescue Blues" and the swaggering "Gonna Make You Love Me More." Such personal honesty has its drawbacks, though. The other night, his ex called to complain that he was sharing too much about their relationship.
"Can you believe that? She called me at 3 in the morning here, after all that has happened, and asked me not to talk about our lives," Adams said, adding how hard it has been to see his friends and his beloved New York suffer after the World Trade Center attacks. "The world has changed, honey. In case you haven't noticed, there are a lot more important things going on. Or has Hollywood burnt your brain too much? It's not just about you."
Adams said that since his return to New York, he simply has been trying to keep his friends' spirits up. "I'm trying to call everybody, go out of my way to smile at people, taking them to lunch, out for drinks - a lot of them, it's like their souls kind of got destroyed," he said.
"There's this feeling of pressing on, and I think it makes sense. I want to be a part of that. Things are seeming kind of European here now.
"People are going to bars at 5 or 6 now. I fit in perfectly."
here's another review of gold...
||from the boston globe:
The weight of 'Gold'
With second CD, the spotlight shines even brighter on bad boy Ryan Adams
By Jonathan Perry, Globe Correspondent, 10/5/2001
The first rule you need to know about 26-year-old songwriter Ryan Adams is there are no rules. Not when it comes to the kind of music he makes, not when it comes to conventions about how, where, and when he makes it, and not when it comes to assessing what it all means. The second rule you need to know about Adams is that he reserves the right to change his mind about any and all of the above at any time.
Taciturn, sentimental, contentious, effusive, brash, and facetious are just a few of the words that begin to describe the Jacksonville, N.C.-born musician, who plays at a sold-out show at the Paradise tonight. In conversation, Adams is a bundle of canny contradictions that begins with his simultaneous love of pop orthodoxy and a firebrand punk spirit in direct opposition to it. He's an intuitive yet calculating artist who dismisses his press as so much ''kitty litter'' but who mugs - and mugs exceptionally well - for the camera. He's a prolific songwriter who insists that his just-released disc, "Gold,"' is merely "what naturally came out next"' but then says he put a prior album's worth of material on hold because '"it was very sad, and I covered sad last year."
Back in 1997, while still with his celebrated but doomed alternative-country band, Whiskeytown, Adams said he felt heartened by the prospect of people wanting to be "moved" again by good music and honest songwriting. Last year, after Whiskeytown had imploded amid alcohol-fueled internal squabbles and soured record deals, Adams said he didn't care anymore who was moved by his music. He chalked up his earlier comments to youthful indiscretion.
"I don't know what I was talking about back then - I was just a stupid kid," said Adams at the time. "I wanted to prove something. I wanted to win the rock 'n' roll game."
His job now, he said, was to "make the best record I can make" regardless of who might - or might not - be listening. Those who were listening heard "Heartbreaker" (Bloodshot), an achingly lovely, downcast solo debut from a romantically wounded but creatively kindled artist who had left lost love in New York for new beginnings in Nashville and come up with one of the year's best records in the process. The disc landed Adams rave reviews, sold-out shows, and fashion shoots for GQ magazine.
"Gold," Adams's second solo album and his first for the new Nashville-based Lost Highway label (an imprint distributed through Universal Music), will do little to quell the swell of momentum and industry buzz. In fact, with "Gold," interest in Adams - and what he may do next - has suddenly soared. The new disc feels as simultaneously familiar and unpredictable, as personal and universal, as its subject.
"'Gold' is a record about being in love," says Adams, on the phone from Nashville, where he spends a good part of his time when he's not in either New York or Los Angeles. "I think it sums up what it was like for me to be enthralled with the world and reinvigorated when I moved to Hollywood and fell in love again, and just my world changing."
For a growing group of fervent listeners, Adams's unabashed embrace of traditionalist country, rock, and pop styles - and his equal devotion to classic songcraft and doing things his own way - makes him the heir-apparent to a legacy of icons that includes Gram Parsons (to whom he's most often compared), Neil Young, the Replacements' Paul Westerberg, and, lately, "Blood on the Tracks"-era Bob Dylan. His fans and collaborators have included Gillian Welch, the Counting Crows' Adam Duritz, and Parsons's old duet partner, Emmylou Harris.
And yet until now, this wholly accessible songwriter with a fetching twang of a voice and tousled good looks has only begun to break into the mainstream. "Believe it or not, man, I'm an incredibly unfamous person - people do not know who I am," says Adams. "I can walk into any ... grocery store anywhere in the country and trust me, I'll have no problem."
That may not be the case much longer, says David Avery, former columnist for the trade journal CMJ New Music Report, and now president of Powderfinger Promotions, a Boston-based music promotions company. "We know it's possible to make a mainstream breakthrough with this kind of music - we saw it with Lucinda Williams," says Avery. "If he keeps himself sober, I think he can do it. It's funny - he actually seems to have gained more notoriety since he left Whiskeytown."
Adams's combination of youth, notoriety, and "a very American" sound, Avery says, is a potent alchemy. "The fact that he's on the edge - the fact that he's a reckless talent - there's a rock 'n' roll attraction to it, there's no getting around that. You're always rooting for him, and he's starting to prove himself as a songwriter. Is there room for a male Lucinda Williams? We'll find out."
On "Gold," Adams continues to expand his voice, blurring, bending, and borrowing from myriad sources and inspirations. From "New York, New York," the breezy, bustling valentine to that city that opens the album, to the Van Morrison-esque vocal inflections that wrap like a velvet cloak around "Answering Bell," to the Gershwin-styled strings-and-piano ballad "Goodnight, Hollywood Blvd" that closes the disc, "Gold" is a work that travels even further than "Heartbreaker" did from the narrow, often confining "alternative country" world.
"I have always been interested in lots of different kinds of music, and I think all the Whiskeytown records, when you look back on them, up to my solo records, have always been influenced by songwriters - meaning Tom Waits and Randy Newman and Gram Parsons. And yeah, all of that's country, because those are real songwriters," says Adams. "But there was always Bob Mould in my music and there was always post-punk, and I think there was always some Johnny Thunders and Rolling Stones."
"I don't know if I would have discovered Whiskeytown as early as I did if there weren't those references there," said Luke Lewis, president of Lost Highway, who grew up with Parsons in Florida.
"What makes this album peculiar for somebody my age is that sonically, it's just totally comfortable for me," says Lewis, 54, whose roster includes Lucinda Williams. "It seems as if young people, at the moment, are having an affinity for the kind of music I grew up with."
"I've never tried to escape any genre," says Adams, who talks with equal enthusiasm about the apocalyptic metal group Slayer and blues singer Billie Holiday (he counts Alanis Morissette and the Circle Jerks' Keith Morris as his two biggest inspirations). "When they thought that I was part of that [alt-country] movement, I went, 'OK, whatever. Maybe I am.' I don't know. I don't categorize. ... I'm so tired of hearing people whine and moan about [genres]. It's like, 'You know what? Shut up and play your music.' You almost want to tap 'em on the shoulder and say 'You're just a dude who writes songs on acoustic guitar in your bedroom. You're not that important.'"
What is important, Adams says, is exploring and exploiting the opportunity he's been given to do this for a living. Adams likens his approach to that of a runner with a rigorous training regimen, which in part explains his manic work ethic. Besides "Gold," he's also finished recording what he claims will be a "loud and beautiful" album with his rock band, the Pink Hearts (due out, he says, early next year), as well as polishing off another record he's dubbed ''48 Hours," which Adams says he made in a blur after being inspired at an Alanis Morissette concert. Oh, and he's also done some writing since then.
"I really like the idea that if you're an artist, then you should double up the amount of work that you would normally have, because you're being [handed] a dream. I've worked on houses and built new plumbing and had really [bad] jobs. If I'm going to be a musician, that's a pretty big responsibility. That means that I get excluded from the working class - I better have something to show for it. ... There's a lot of talk about me being a drunk and a hell-raiser, but to be honest with you, I work all the time."
Still, Adams claims he occasionally dreams of someday returning to a 9-to-5 job: "I don't think I'll be able to do this forever. I think at some point, I'm going to want to work down the street in a shop and just type on my typewriter and be a normal guy. Hopefully, I'll have gotten over all of this."
This story ran on page C13 of the Boston Globe on 10/5/2001.
and here's a show preview from a few days ago...
||from nashville scene:
Good music, bad rap
Something about Ryan Adams seems to piss off a lot of people. Maybe it's the way he used to restaff his band Whiskeytown every few months, and then do interviews during which he emphasized his "team player" spirit. Maybe it's his oft-cited assertion that he wanted the group to be "the Nirvana of alt-country." Maybe it's that he's so damned prolific, and that he dashes off stacks of songs rooted so deeply in the work of Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, Van Morrison, and Elton John that some wonder if he is more of a skilled mimic than a boy genius.
My first exposure to Whiskeytown was an episode of Austin City Limits wherein the band cycled through dry country-rock, performed with dour expressions. I sampled Strangers Almanac shortly afterward, and wasn't immediately impressed. Then last year I was sent a copy of Adams' solo debut, Heartbreaker, which left me similarly cold on first spin, save for a couple of personable songs. Those few selections got me to play the record again, at which point, a couple more tracks began to sink in. By the end of 2000, Heartbreaker had worked its way into my year-end Top 10.
Earlier this year, the last gasps of Whiskeytown were collected as the album Pneumonia, and now Adams has made a speedy follow-up to his solo debut with the overstuffed Gold (Lost Highway), which presents 16 pleasant, easy-on-the-ears compositions that seem to have spilled out of him with suspicious effortlessness.
But I don't care anymore about questioning Adams' authenticity or motives. When I hear Gold's opening song and first single, "New York, New York"--with its patter of bongos, "Pinball Wizard" guitar sting, "Tangled Up in Blue" tumble of lyrics, quavery organ, aching minor-key bridge, and triumphant chorus--it just makes me feel good. That the chorus is "Hell, I still love you, New York" only makes the song more poignant in this time of trial. Is "New York, New York" derivative? Absolutely. But the elements Adams borrows from Dylan and Townshend (and even Springsteen, via a closing saxophone rumble) are recombined in ways both comfortable and imaginative, and the song's story of young lovers going from thriving to merely surviving on NYC streets is a stirring one.
Similarly, the "Caravan"-like "Answering Bell"--which even features Van Morrison sound-alike Adam Duritz singing backup--has a simplistic, free-associative string of "I'll take care of you, baby" lyrics that don't exactly recontextualize Morrison but certainly revive him. Copycat or not, Adams certainly has good taste.
There are missteps aplenty on Gold: songs in which the words seem like an afterthought; songs that seem to roll on interminably; and songs that are all atmosphere and no earth. The same was true of Pneumonia. But as Adams moves into his late 20s, his restless dilettantism and staggering output of music no longer have the air of egotism crossed with hucksterism. Instead, his lack of focus seems to stem from exuberance, and his habit of cranking out songs and moving on seems an expression of openness and generosity. It's as though he wants to get it all down on tape as fast as he can, while the inspiration is still flowing. Adams may smear stolen Americana and traces of post-punk on his palette and then slap the mess he makes directly onto the canvas, but he produces some rewarding hues amid the splatter.
By the time Gold travels from New York to California and wraps up with the gentle "Goodnight, Hollywood Blvd.," the record's careening journey will have likely exasperated some listeners and exhilarated others. But so long as Adams keeps fostering a good nature, and so long as he keeps serving up tiny jewels like the slightly Yoakam-y "Somehow, Someday," the stately ballad "When the Stars Go Blue," the rhapsodic "Gonna Make You Love Me," or the simmering, gospel-flavored "Touch, Feel and Lose," it's worth slogging through the songs that fizzle--especially when even those songs give off such a pretty light.
Ryan Adams performs Sept. 29 at 328 Performance Hall. Paul Burch opens.