Review : Whiskeytown - Stranger's Almanac (Deluxe Edition)
RollingstonesLike their alt-country peers Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown were a short-lived outfit that made primo tunes via two core talents: the sweetly ragged yearning of perpetual train wreck Ryan Adams and the poignant fiddle and harmonies of foil Caitlin Cary. Released in 1997, when Adams was twenty-two, Almanac was Whiskeytown's major-label debut, and although the group was in upheaval, the record is remarkably polished, coloring Gram Parsons-style country rock with R.E.M.'s vocal drama ("Not Home Anymore") and the Replacements' beer-breath blues ("Yesterday's News"). The album is a minor classic, and this reissue proves Adams was ridiculously prolific even then. The bonus disc of unearthed Nineties sessions would itself make a strong album, unplugging many Almanac songs alongside other originals and covers, including Adams' plaintive reading of Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" and a surprisingly affectionate take on Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams," anticipating a time when the Dixie Chicks and Little Big Town would make the Mac a touchstone of modern country. As he is now, Adams was then both ahead of and behind his time....full text
ArtistdirectWhen an album is good but a bit overlong, can you improve it by expanding it to roughly three times its original length? That's the curious gambit behind Geffen's "Deluxe Edition" of Whiskeytown's 1997 major-label debut, Strangers Almanac; while the original release of the album clocked in at a bit under 52 minutes, this reissue has been expanded into a two-disc set that's nearly 148 minutes long. Strangers Almanac caught Whiskeytown in an awkward moment in their history; while they'd gained a far higher profile as a new major-label act and were pegged as rising stars, tensions within the band were already starting to fracture the lineup, and Ryan Adams, Phil Wandscher, and Caitlin Cary had to replace their rhythm section a mere two weeks before they began recording, with session musicians filling out the lineup. While Strangers Almanac's fallow stretches hamper its pacing, the best material ranks alongside Whiskeytown's finest moments, and the album sounds powerfully cohesive, with a real chemistry between Adams, Cary, and Wandscher that was absent from the group's posthumous swan song Pneumonia. However, this new version of the LP seems to reflect one of the guiding credos of Adams' solo career, namely that Quantity Is Quality. Disc one of the Deluxe Strangers Almanac features the original 13-song album along with a five-song radio broadcast from the fall of 1997, with the band meandering through a sloppy live set that does feature two otherwise unreleased songs and a few inspired moments, but sounds as if Adams had awakened from a deep sleep two minutes before air time. Disc two features two rare tunes that popped up on film soundtracks ("Wither, I'm a Flower" from Hope Floats and "Theme for a Trucker" from The End of Violence) along with 19 alternate takes and demos that have circulated among fans under the title "The Barn's on Fire." Most of the disc two material is the sort of stuff that gets bootlegged but not given an authorized release for a reason -- they're covers and alternate versions (usually acoustic) that obsessive fans will dote on, but few if any objective listeners would peg as being as interesting as the group's authorized recordings. Sadly, this adequate but hardly compelling music has been included when some more interesting stuff didn't make the cut -- the four-track promo EP In Your Wildest Dreams (where "Wither I'm a Flower" made its first appearance), and several compilation appearances and single sides (especially the group's potent version on Moon Mullican's "Bottom of the Glass" on the Bloodshot collection Straight Outta Boone County). Ultimately, this edition tends to dilute Strangers Almanac's strengths rather than reinforcing them, which is a shame, as its one of the best and least acknowledged albums in Ryan Adams' pantheon. ~ Mark Deming, All Music Guide...full text
Music.ignApril 11, 2008 - What was it with alt-country's finest that only allowed them to survive a few albums before imploding? Both Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown burned hard, fast, and bright, delivering some of the finest country-tinged rock ever captured. Whiskeytown's finest came with its sophomore release for the tumultuous, short-lived band.
The album, originally released on July 29, 1997, is here in remastered form. The band was never about perfection, but the crunchy guitars and rough edges have never sounded better. Though the band was coming apart at the seams, recording the album with two session players as replacements, the heart and soul of Whiskeytown were just coming into their own in troublemaking, talented songwriter Ryan Adams and angel-voiced violinist Caitlin Carey. The duo earn their place atop the list of alt-country's finest collaborators with their ragged harmony on "16 Days" which is absolutely delicious on the tender, shuffling acoustic verses: "I've got 16 days / I've got a bible and a rosary / God, I wish that you were close to me / Cause I owe you an apology." When the band kicks up the country sheen in the "Ghost has got me running" hook the song completely kicks your ass.
Story songs do not get much better than the tale of love and death in the midst of World War II, "Houses on the Hill." Adams' songwriting is amazing, weaving a heartbreaking tale of a man finding long-lost love letters between his mother and her lover: "When Eisenhower sent him to war / He kept her picture in his pocket that was closest to his heart / And when he hit shore / Must have been a target for the gunmen." Blaring horns and slick riffs turn "Everything I Do" into a passionate bluesy power ballad where Adams bleeds emotion into the frustrated hook "Don't you ask me how I'm doing / When everything I do / Says missing you."...full text
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