So, a new Ryan Adams album is on the horizon (Prisoners) and I’m kinda tempted to buy it. Just kinda, because I haven’t really been blown away by what I’ve heard from it and there are some other releases over the next month or so that are high on my list (Duke Garwood’s Garden of Ashes and the remastered and remixed Texas Jerusalem Crossroads by Lift To Experience). But, I do like Ryan Adams a helluva lot, so there’s a good chance I’ll pick it up.
Anyhoo, usually when there’s a new Ryan Adams album there’s the usual ‘is it the new Heartbreaker’ and, well, as much as I dig that album, I’d much prefer something like Cold Roses or Jacksonville City Nights. Man, those albums are just about perfect (Friends would have been the perfect closer for Cold Roses) and they sit wonderfully next to Strangers Almanac.
I’m not gonna lie. I discovered Strangers Almanac a little later than 1997. Must have been just around the turn of the Millennium. Folks worried about whether the Millennium bug was actually waiting to derail everything and I was fretting over how I managed to miss Whiskeytown. After all, here was this alt. country band that could have been the genre’s Nirvana. Potential crossover act (Adams would eventually manage that with Gold) and many have said that they should have blown the doors wide open, etc etc. When I finally discovered it, the band had pretty much looked to be done (Pneumonia was looking like an unlikely release at the time) and, well, they eventually would be.
It was the first country sounding alt. country record I had heard and it blew me away – much like Richard Buckner had a few years before. See, the thing about Stangers Almanac – and this is true to this day – is that it has an energy and rawness that’s juxtaposed with the brilliantly assured writing (illustrated perfectly during Everything I Do or Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight). They still sound as ramshackle as on Faithless Street, but there’s a confidence and swagger despite the band, much like the characters in the album, coming apart at the seams.
Like much of Adams’ work, it has its critics (the predictable Replacements / Gram Parsons comments), but it’ll always be one of my favourites. I mean, as well as featuring a few of my all-time favourite songs (16 Days, Dancing With The Women At The Bar and Avenues) and as good a setting setter (?) as you’ll find in Inn Town, it’s been a go-to album when I need to reset my musical compass. I guess you could say that Adams’ success with Gold has, in some way, thrown Whiskeytown to the back of alt. country’s important albums. Adam’s credibility often queried as a result of his detours into mainstream singer-songwriter / country rock / every-man stylings.
Sure, Ryan Adams has been a bit inconsistent and has maybe released a bunch of stuff that suffers from sounding throwaway or lacking in quality control and he may not be experimenting with different textures in the way Jeff Tweedy is, but that doesn’t mean his words and music are any less vital. He’s at his best he’s wearing his heart and influences on his sleeve and relaying tales about hearts being trampled and ripped to shreds.
Just like he is on here.
And on Heartbreaker.
And on Cold Roses.
And on Jacksonville City Nights.
I guess what I’m saying is that it’s about time I bought that expanded Strangers Almanac reissue on vinyl (and likely Prisoner, too).
As always, cheers for reading.