Tag Archives: Whiskeytown

Blast From The Past: Whiskeytown

When the insurgent roots music movement started to take hold – call it alt-country, No Depression or Y’Alternative music – a flood of bands that tied back to Gram Parsons, Neil Young and classic country artists from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash started to milk a serious buzz. Near the front of the pack was a loosely raucous band from Raleigh, North Carolina called Whiskeytown, and their lead martyr singer and songwriter Ryan Adams.

A skilled and interesting collaborative band (with Caitlin Cary, Phil Wandscher, Eric “Skillet” Gilmore and Mike Daly), Whiskeytown released its debut Faithless Street, which bowled over critics and landed them a major label deal. By the time the second album Stranger’s Almanac was released, the group was known for its self-destructive tendencies as much as its musical brilliance, the lion’s share of that squarely on the head of Adams. Reading interviews at the time I realized that I was watching someone emulating Keith Richards; I just didn’t know how much of it was by accident.

Thankfully, I was wrong about Adams in a multitude of ways. He didn’t drink himself into an early grave, even when the band imploded in 2000. In fact, he was so prolific between 2000 and 2005 (eight releases!) that the plaudits became even more gargantuan. Like some of his heroes and influences, he juggled both popular acclaim and commercial success, and it looked like he was a step away from releasing that album or song that would place his name on everyone’s lips (or perhaps spontaneously combust).

Having juggled the solo image and with his more traditional band The Cardinals, he opted for the latter and released two more albums over the next five years. Like contemporaries and heroes Wilco, he’s prone to experiment with styles and now has left them to form a rock trio. I haven’t even heard Orion, his newest record; I’m not certain I want to hear Ryan Adams doing metal (even if he did get his start in a punk band). But there’s no denying the early classics, and I hope he still has a few tricks like that left in his worn out sachel.

Here’s my short shot review of Strangers Almanac from 1997:


Ryan Adams is a hell of a songwriter for a guy in his early twenties, but I’d get the suicide watch started right now. Desperation set to music works both ways, and Adams mines the vein like the forefathers he so drunkenly pretends he isn’t influenced by (perhaps his own line sums it up best – “I can’t stand to be under your wing”). When he’s more uptempo he wears his Paul Westerberg on his sleeve (“Yesterday’s News”) and other times a Neil Young ghost will rear its head (“Turn Around”).

But he’s also savvy enough to diversify the instrumentation. Fiddle and horns alternately pick a song up (“Sixteen Days”) and take it out at the knees (the pained and haunting “Everything I Do”). One of the most powerful and depressing records of 1997, and I mean those both as compliments.

Listen to clips from Strangers Almanac

Whiskeytown page at Lost Highway Records

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Under The Radar: Gas Money

Aren't they all, usually?

Aren't they all, usually?

Sometimes something I tout as out from under the radar accidentally slips back under again. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Gas Money’s excellent album Hopeless Love Affair but missed out when their new one was released…I am looking forward to catching up with them via 22 Dollars. But in case you haven’t heard either one, here’s some words about the former…

Imagine Brian Setzer and Johnny Cash met as kids and formed a garage band. Yeah, baby – that’s what Pennsylvania’s Gas Money is all about. Part Bakersfield country, part rockabilly twang, all honky-tonk wonder. Predominantly cover tunes, this is a Route 66 jukebox all the way, with Jimmy Reed, Ray Price, Carl Perkins and Fats Waller among the selections – even a hidden Bruce Springsteen track. Ronnie Allen’s “Juvenile Delinquent” smolders, as does their delightfully off-key swing at Whiskeytown’s “Too Drunk To Dream”.

There’s a touch of the Beat Farmers sound (but not the humor) lumbering under the surface; clearly this a band that feels no boundaries in its scope. The two originals fit well among the mix; one a lengthy country blues, the other a lower-volume guitar rumble. Go hunt this puppy down immediately. This is the kind of record that makes sailing under the radar such a rewarding occupation.


Gas Money website

Gas Money on MySpace

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