Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams

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Faithless Street , 5/10
Strangers Almanac , 7/10
Pneumonia , 6/10
Caitlin Cary: While You Weren't Looking (2002) , 6.5/10
Caitlin Cary: I'm Staying Out (2003), 6/10
Ryan Adams: Heartbreaker (2000) 6/10
Ryan Adams: Gold (2001), 6/10
Ryan Adams: Demolition (2002), 4.5/10
Ryan Adams: Rock N Roll (2003), 5/10
Ryan Adams: Love Is Hell (2003), 6/10
Ryan Adams: Cold Roses (2005), 6.5/10
Ryan Adams: Jacksonville City Nights (2005), 5.5/10
Ryan Adams: 29 (2005), 4.5/10
Ryan Adams: Easy Tiger (2007), 5/10
Ryan Adams: Cardinology (2008), 4.5/10
Ryan Adams: III/IV (2010), 4.5/10
Ryan Adams: Ashes And Fire (2011), 5.5/10
Ryan Adams (2014), 5/10
Prisoner (2017), 5/10
Wednesdays (2020), 4.5/10
Big Colors (2021), 4.5/10
Chris (2022), 4/10
Romeo & Juliet (2022), 5/10
FM (2022), 4.5/10
Devolver (2022), 4/10

Whiskeytown was an alt-country band from Raleigh (North Carolina) that sounded like a punkier Uncle Tupelo. Vocalist Ryan Adams, violinist Caitlin Cary and guitarist Mike Daly came through as raw and depressed on Faithless Street (Mood Food, 1995), their songs (Black Arrow Broken Heart, Drank Like A River) mere rehearsals for something more substantial to come.

Strangers Almanac (Outpost, 1997) fulfilled that promise with 16 Days, Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart, Turn Around, Not Home Anymore and especially Waiting to Derail. Sometimes, one hears echoes of Replacements (Yesterday's News) and often the style digresses into honkytonk Dancing With The Women At The Bar and rhythm and blues Everything I Do. Overall, it's the best album of alt-country of the year.

Rural Free Delivery (Mood Food, 1997) collects unreleased tracks from the early days.

In the meantime, Ryan Adams then released the solo Heartbreaker (2000) that introduced him as one of the paradigmatic singer-songwriters of his generation thanks to a varied collection of country-tinged tunes, from Oh My Sweet Carolina to the rocking To Be Young and to the galloping Come Pick Me Up.

The band's Pneumonia (Lost Highway, 2001), released two years after it was recorded, turned out to be their swan song as the band had already split up. Songs like Paper Moon, Don't Wanna Know Why and Sit And Listen To The Rain display a powerful songwriting talent, equally at home in the Dylan-ian dirge and in the Springsteen-ian rant, in the Oldham-ian alt-country mode and in the Replacements-ian power-pop mode.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Stefano Letmein)

I Whiskeytown sono una band di alternative-country proveniente da Raleigh (Carolina del Nord), una sorta di versione punk degli Uncle Tupelo.

Il cantante Ryan Adams, il violinista Caitlin Cary e il chitarrista Mike Daly suonano ancora tristi e grezzi in Faithless Street (Mood Food, 1995), con canzoni (Black Arrow Broken Heart, Drank Like A River) che sono mere prove tecniche per qualcosa di più sostanzioso in futuro.

Strangers Almanac (Outpost, 1997) mantiene quella promessa con 16 Days, Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart, Turn Around, Not Home Anymore e soprattutto Waiting to Derail. A volte si sentono echi dei Replacements (Yesterday's News) e spesso lo stile sfocia nell'honkytonk di Dancing With The Women At The Bar e nel rhythm and blues di Everything I Do. Nel complesso, si tratta del migliore album dell'anno di alternative-country.

Rural Free Delivery (Mood Food, 1997) è una collezione di brani inediti del primo periodo.

Pneumonia (Lost Highway, 2001), pubblicato due anni dopo la sua registrazione, si rivelò essere il canto del cigno della band, che si era già sciolta. Canzoni come Paper Moon, Don't Wanna Know Why e Sit And Listen To The Rain evidenziano un grande potenziale compositivo, a proprio agio sia con l'innodia funebre dylaniana che con la declamazione springsteeniana, sia con lo stile alternative-country alla Oldham che con quello power-pop alla Replacements.

Whiskeytown's violinist Caitlin Cary started a solo career in an old-fashioned, but highly dignified, folk and country manner with While You Weren't Looking (Yep Roc, 2002), produced by Chris Stamey, mostly co-written with guitarist Mike Daly and arranged with help from Whiskeytown's guitarist Mike Daly, drummer Skillet Gilmore and bassist Mike Santoro and Jayhawk's keyboardist Jen Gunderman. Both catchy and fragile (Shallow Heart Shallow Water, Sorry, Fireworks, Please Don't Hurry Your Heart) amidst remnants of Whiskeytown's sound (the twangy and dynamic Thick Walls Down, the upbeat and almost gospel Pony) and a tribute to Joni Mitchell's intellectual folk-jazz (Too Many Keys), the album established Cary as an original voice in a crowded field.

Cary's sophomore I'm Staying Out (Yep ROc, 2003), featuring local dinosaurs of folk-pop Chris Stamey, Don Dixon and Mitch Easter, leaned towards Lucinda Williams' country-pop style (Empty Rooms, You Don't Have to Hide) and Nashville's plaintive ballads (The Next One, I'm Staying Out), although the best numbers (Cello Girl and Beauty Fades Away) were still reminiscent of Whiskeytown's country-rock, and the dreamy Sleepin' In On Sunday opened new avenues of personal confession.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Andrea Marengo)

Caitlin Cary, ovvero la violinista dei Whiskeytown, iniziò una carriera solista seguendo uno stile antiquato ma molto dignitoso di folk e country su While You Weren't Looking (Yep Rock, 2002). Le sue canzoni fragili e orecchiabili  (Shallow Heart Shallow Water, Sorry, Fireworks, Please Don't Hurry Your Heart), sono ciò che rimane dello stile dei Whiskeytown (la vibrante e dinamica Thick Walls Down, il crescendo gospel di Pony), mentre il tributo al folk-jazz intellettuale di Joni Mitchell (Too Many Keys) dimostrava  quanto la voce di Cary fosse originale anche entro quel territorio musicale affollato. L'album venne prodotto da Chris Stamey ed arrangiato in gran parte con il chitarrista Mike Daly, il batterista Skillet Gilmore, il bassista Mike Santoro e il tastierista dei Jayhawks Jen Gunderman.

Il secondo lavoro di Cary, I'm Staying Out (Yep Roc, 2003), venne realizzato con la collaborazione dei giganti del folk -pop Chris Stamey, Don Dixon, e Mitch Easter. Il lavoro è incline al country-pop di Lucinda Williams (Empty Rooms, You Don't Have To Hide) e alle malinconiche ballate di Nashville (The Next One, I'm Staying Out), benchè i momenti migliori (Cello Girl e Beauty Fades Away) ricordino ancora una volta il country-rock dei Whiskeytown, mentre la trasognata Sleepin' In On Sunday apriva nuovi orizzonti grazie alle confessioni personali della musicista.

Whiskeytown's vocalist Ryan Adams rediscovered the charisma of Gran Parsons on his country-rock solo debut Heartbreaker (Bloodshot, 2000), but then veered towards the mainstream pop ballad (and reverted to a soul falsetto) on Gold (Lost Highway, 2001). An overlong (21 songs) and wildly eclectic collection, Gold sounded almost like the collaboration between a number of different singer-songwriters: a Neil Young fan (Harder Now That It's Over, Sylvia Plath, the raw Enemy Fire, the ghostly Somehow Someday), a disciple of Warren Zevon's cinematic narrative (Harder Now That It's Over), a southern rocker (the hit New York New York sounds like the Allman Brothers, Answering Bell and The Rescue Blues hark back at the Band's gospel-rock, Touch, Feel, & Lose is a Memphis soul croon, and Tina Toledo's Street Walkin' Blues is greasy blues-rock that borrows the riff from Hendrix's Purple Haze), an experimental auteur (the lengthy Nobody Girl) and a simple folksinger (the plaintive Wild Flowers). All in one. But none truly exceptional. Nonetheless, Adams became the first star of alt-country.

Demolition (2002) collects demos recorded in between concerts: a few could aim for the mainstream (Starting to Hurt and Nuclear), but mostly they pay tribute to Adams' roots and idols without much originality (Cry on Demand, Dear Chicago, Hallelujah, Gimme A Sign, Jesus Don't Touch My Baby).

Ryans' decline continued on Rock N Roll (Lost Highway, 2003), where the "eclectic" persona became a full-fledged identity crisis. The singer-songwriter who apes the Replacements (This Is It, Boys, Do Miss America), T. Rex (Shallow), U2 (So Alive) and Bruce Springsteen (1974) behaves like a young hopeful with little talent. (The song titles reference famous songs of the history of rock and roll).

An album that was scrapped by the record label surfaced as the eight-song EP Love Is Hell Pt 1 (Lost Highway, 2003) and the EP Love Is Hell Pt 2, later reissued as one album, Love Is Hell (Lost Highway, 2004). Overall, this is a more consistent and cohesive Adams. Not coincidentally, it returns to the doom and gloom of the debut album (Political Scientist, Afraid not Scared, Shadowlands, Chelsea Nights, This House Is Not For Sale). But too much melodrama mars the overall atmosphere.

Cold Roses (Lost Highway, 2005), recorded with a new band, the Cardinals, is a 18-song double-CD album that contains way too much filler. Adams is becoming as prolific as superficial. Too many mid-tempo ballads sound alike, as if Adams couldn't finish one and make it truly unique, and kept rehearsing around the same format over and over again. And too much generic meandering country-pop evokes the Grateful Dead's sell-out of the early 1970s (Magnolia Mountain, Cold Roses) or the late Byrds's sell-out of the same period (Cherry Lane, Easy Plateau) without adding much to either cliche. The catchy and mildly atmospheric Let It Ride is passable, Meadowlake Street is a reasonable compromise between epic and intimate, When Will You Come Back Home, Dance All Night are decent nods to Whiskeytown, and the utterly pathetic How Do You Keep Love Alive might be his most sincere moment. But this double album could and should have been an EP.

Jacksonville City Nights (Lost Highway, 2005), Adam's second album in one year and the second collaboration with the Cardinals, marked a return to his rustic roots, with a few nods to Gram Parsons' alt-country (the mid-tempo honky-tonk The End the horns-driven The Hardest Part, and especially Hard Way to Fall, reminiscent of Dylan's country period). As usual, a good portion of the album marks a dramatic collapse in quality, but, by now, it is obvious that Adams does not perceive it as filler: it is a fact that Adams cannot distinguish gold from dirt. Barring suicidal or masochistic tendencies, Adams must truly believe that some of the disposable, predictable numbers (A Kiss Before I Go, My Heart Is Broken, Silver Bullets, Dear John, a duet with Norah Jones) represent his self as well as the more original ones.

29 (Lost Highway, 2005), Adam's third album in one year, differed from the other two for at least three reasons: it was, finally, a solo effort, largely an autobiographical concept album, and the (nine) songs were lengthy ballads. But, like the other two, it continued the maddening habit of including inferior material next to significant songs. Here the eight minutes of Carolina Rain, or a cover of the Grateful Dead's Truckin retitled 29, are hardly what one expects next to the mildly interesting Strawberry Wine and Night Birds. Adams must think that his lyrics are so profound and elegant to justify the mediocre music. Unfortunately, the lyrics are painfully trivial, and the uninspired music only makes them sound even more so.

(Traduzione di Gabriella Gentile, gabestardust@libero.it)

Ryan Adams, il cantante dei Whiskeytown’s, ha riscoperto il carisma di Gran Prasons nel suo debutto da solista con Hearthbreaker (Bloodshot, 2000) ma si è poi diretto verso le ballate pop tradizionali (ritornando ad un falsetto soul) con Gold (Lost Highway, 2001). Collezione extralarge ed ampiamente eclettica, Gold aveva quasi l’aspetto di una collaborazione di diversi cantautori: un fan di Neil Young (Harder Now That It’s Over, Sylvia Plath, la durezza di Enemy fire, la spettrale Somehow Someday), un discepolo della narrativa cinematografica di Warren Zevon (Harder Now That it’s Over), un rocker del sud ( la hit New York New York ricorda il sound degli Allman Brothers, Answering Bell e The rescue blues rievocano il gospel-rock della Band, Touch, Feel, & Lose è una cantilena soul nello stile di Memphis e Tina Toledo’s Street Walkin’ Blues è un rock-blues macchiato che prende in prestito il riff da Purple Haze di Hendrix), un autore sperimentale (la lunga Nobody Girl) e un semplice cantante folk ( la triste Wild Flowers). Tutti in uno ma nessuno veramente eccezionale. Tuttavia, Adams divenne la prima star dell’alternative-country.

Demolition (2002) raccoglie i demo registrati tra un concerto e l’altro: alcuni potrebbero aspirare al tradizionale (Starting to Hurt e Nuclear) ma la maggior parte di essi è soprattutto un tributo, poco originale, alle radici e agli idoli di Adam (Cry on Demand, Dear Chicago, Hallelujah, Gimme a Sign, Jesus Don’t Touch My Baby).

Il declino di Ryan continua con Rock N Roll (Lost Highway, 2003) in cui il personaggio "eclettico" entra in una matura crisi di identità. Il cantautore che scimmiotta i Replacement (This Is It, Boys, Do Miss America), T. Rex (Shallow), gli U2 (So Alive) e Bruce Springsteen (1974) si comporta come un giovane speranzoso di scarso talento. (I titoli rimandano a famose canzoni della storia del rock and roll).

Un album che era stato rifiutato dall’etichetta discografica esordì come un EP da otto canzoni Love Is Hell Part 1 (Lost Highway, 2003) e l’ EP Love Is Hell Part 2, in seguito riedito in un unico album, Love Is Hell (Lost Highway, 2004). Nel complesso siamo di fronte ad un Adams più coerente e coesivo che non a caso ritorna alla fatalità e alla malinconia dell’album del suo debutto (Political Scientist, Afraid not Scared, Shadowlands, Chelsea Nights, This House Is Not For Sale). Tuttavia l’atmosfera, nel suo insieme, è guastata da troppo melodramma.

Cold Roses (Lost Highway, 2005), registrato con una nuova band, I Cardinals, è un album CD doppio da diciotto canzoni che contiene un bel po’ di riempitivi. Adams sta diventando tanto prolifico quanto superficiale, troppe ballate dal ritmo andante si assomigliano tra loro come se non riuscisse a finirne una e a renderla realmente unica, continuando a rimaneggiare lo stesso format ripetutamente. E troppo del country-pop sinuoso rievoca il successo dei Grateful Dead dei primi anni ’70 (Magnolia Mountain, Cold Roses) oppure l’ultimo successo dei Byrds dello stesso periodo (Cherry Lane, Easy Plateau) senza aggiungere molto ad entrambi i cliche. L’orecchiabile e moderatamente coinvolgente Let It Ride è passabile, Meadowlake Steet è un compromesso ragionevole tra epica e interiorità, When Will You Come Back Home, Dance All Night, sono un discreto ammiccamento ai Whiskeytown e il pathos totale di How Do You Keep Love Alive potrebbe essere il suo momento più sincero. Tuttavia, questo album doppio potrebbe e avrebbe dovuto essere, un EP.

Jacksonville City Nights (Lost Highway, 2005), è il secondo album di Adams in un anno e il secondo in collaborazione con I Cardinals e ha segnato il ritorno alle sue radici semplici non senza ammiccare di tanto in tanto all’alternative-country di Gram Parsons (la honky-tonk andante The End, The Hardest Part e in particolar modo Hard Way To Fall che rievoca il periodo country di Dylan). Come al solito una buona parte dell’album denota un drammatico calo nella qualità ma adesso è ovvio che questo non è più percepito da Adams come un metodo riempitivo: è un fatto che Adams non riesca a distinguere l’oro dalla spazzatura. A parte le tendenze suicide e masochistiche, Adams sembra credere realmente che alcuni dei brani usa e getta e scontati ( A Kiss Before I Go, My Heart Is Broken, Silver Bullet, Dear John un duetto con Norah Jones) lo rappresentino tanto quanto i pezzi più originali.

29 (Lost Highways, 2005), è il terzo album in un anno che si differenzia dagli altri due almeno per tre ragioni: è stato finalmente un impegno da solista, un album essenzialmente autobiografico e le nove canzoni sono lunghe ballate. Tuttavia, come per gli altri due, persiste l’irritante abitudine di accostare materiale di livello inferiore accanto a brani di un certo rilievo. Gli otto minuti di Carolina Rain, o la cover dei Grateful Dead Truckin reintitolata 29, sono ciò che difficilmente ci si aspetta accanto alle moderatamente interessanti Strawberry Wine e Night Birds. Adams sembra ritenere che i suoi testi siano così profondi ed eleganti da giustificare un arrangiamento mediocre. Purtroppo, i testi sono dolorosamente banali e l’accompagnamento musicale senza ispirazione non fa altro che renderli ancor più banali.

Easy Tiger (Lost Highway, 2007) was another confused collection that mixed different facets of his persona.

Easy Tiger (Lost Highway, 2007) e` un'altra raccolta confusa che unisce diversi aspetti della sua personalita`.

Ryan Adams' Cardinology (2008) was routine and senile country-rock, although, as usual, two or three songs managed to keep the listener awake (Go Easy, Fix It, Magick).

The double-disc rock opera III/IV (2010), recorded in 2007 at the same time as Easy Tiger, revealed another side of Adams, the gritty roots-rocker, or, better, resurrected the rocker who had been buried after Rock N Roll but the few good songs (for example Numbers) do not justify the sprawling release.

The depressed Dirty Rain is misleading as it opens Ashes And Fire (Capitol, 2011), an album that is marked by impeccable and almost robotic execution and boasts some of the sunniest melodies of Adams' career (Lucky Now, Ashes And Fire, I Love You But I Don't Know What to Say).

Ryan Adams (2014) has its doses of diligent Springsteen and Petty imitations (Gimme Something Good, Am I Safe, My Wrecking Ball) but nothing truly memorale.

1989 (2015) is simply a whole-album cover of Taylor Swift's namesake album.

Adams mourned his 2016 divorce on Prisoner (2017), an album with several catchy melodies but also clearly derivative of Bruce Springsteen (Do You Still Love Me), Neil Young, Tom Petty and even Fleetwood Mac.

A turbulent private life didn't help him find the concentration needed for this hyper-prolific stage of his career, with the result that his albums became increasingly boring. A stripped-down sound doesn't benefit Wednesdays (2020), which sounds like part two of 29. Big Colors (2021) contains some 2019 singles (Fuck The Rain and Manchester) and the voodoobilly novelty Power (one of his most energetic songs), but the rest is routine, simple songs for background muzak. The awful Chris (2022) sounds like a collection of leftovers. Romeo & Juliet (2022) contains Rollercoaster but the rest is the usual fare with little to distinguish one song from the others (and there are 19 of them). FM (2022) is even worse, despite a focus on simple melodies, one of the albums that tried to reinvent him as a laid-back guitar-pop entertainer; and Devolver (2022) sounds like a collection of leftovers from FM.

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