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Catchgroove’s Hall Of Fame: Whiskeytown – Strangers Almanac

March 4, 2018

I “discovered” Ryan Adams on a Target store end cap in 1997. There are only a handful of music acts that I discovered on my own and Ryan is one of the few. I distinctly remember buying Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac. I had not heard of the band. I liked the band’s name, cover art and it was on sale – so I bought it. I had no idea what I was getting into. I have been a Ryan Adams fanboy for over twenty years, yet he never excited me more than this first shot. He has continued to hone his craft, but the template for his career was minted on Strangers Almanac.

When I was a kid they called Adams’ music southern rock or country rock. By the time Adams hit the scene in the mid-90s it was called alt-country (which has morphed into a vague and meaningless categorization: Americana). My definition of alt-country is an artist who grew up on punk or metal and then fell, without irony, for country music. They must exist outside the shackles of Nashville – preferably they are openly hostile toward the Nashville machine. They are not constrained by a sound – they are free to go anywhere. That pretty much defines Ryan Adams.

The first time I played Strangers Almanac back in 1997 it had me hooked. It was the sound of the long and lonesome highway. It was slick and sloppy at the same time. The singer songwriter (Adams), who appeared to be the driving force of the band, reminded me of Gram Parsons, Springsteen, the Allman Brothers, Buckingham/Nicks era Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Mellencamp, The Replacements, etc.  Whiskeytown was inspired – not derivative of those acts. Somehow this young band hatched fully formed out of thin air. Most importantly – they rocked.

I have been listening to this album regularly over the last twenty years and I am on my third version:

  1. The original CD (what is available in streaming services)
  2. The deluxe CD reissue
  3. The deluxe LP reissue

I guess that is a sign of obsession.

The album opens with “Inn Town. It is a song that evokes aching feelings of regret and dead ends.

“Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart” is pure country: the arrangement, instrumentation and lyrics. It has a great guest vocal from Alejandro Escovedo (a brilliant cow-punk from Austin Texas music scene).

“Yesterday’s News” is a rocker with a Replacements/Paul Westerberg vibe.

“16 Days” might be the finest song in the Whiskeytown catalog. It would not sound out-of-place on a mid-70s Jackson Browne album. The specifics of what the song is about is unclear, but the emotion is clear: regret.

Ryan Adams uses a sweeter voice for “Everything I Do.” The arrangement is big – even horns.

“Houses On The Hill” evokes Gram Parsons both musically and lyrically.

“Turn Around” has some great guitar work. Adams is a bit underrated for his guitar work. He brilliantly mixes acoustic and big electric riffs.

“Dancing With The Women At The Bar” is classic country longing.

Man I love the feel when I go out

Dancing with the women at the bar

Man I love the feel when I go out

I always know my woman’s close somewhere

Close somewhere…

“Waiting To Derail” could have been a great punk song, but Ryan Adams and band are too good for that.

“Avenues” is an acoustic ballad that would fit nicely on a Paul Westerberg solo album.

“Losering” has a Neil Young and Crazy Horse feel.

“Somebody Remembers The Rose” again reminds me of Gram Parsons.

“Not Home Anymore” ends the album on a lonely note. It has an ambitious arrangement that has a cool spooky vibe.

Strangers Almanac is a timeless classic. There is not a bad song on the album. I never tire of it. It is the reference of greatness for every subsequent Ryan Adams album. Fortunately he continues to live up to this initial promise.

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One Comment
  1. I wore this one out and still go back for more. Your right not a bad song. I like all Whiskytowns limited output.

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