Sunday, May 27, 2007

Whiskeytown (1997)

After my initial discovery of, and major infatuation with, the major bands in the alt-country genre (The Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Wilco), I began to feverishly seek out anything else that would satiate my newfound obsession. To this end, I became a subscriber and regular reader of No Depression, the alt-country bi-monthly named for Uncle Tupelo's debut and The Carter Family song of the same name.

I noticed a few ads for the latest album by a band that I thought had a fairly trite name for the genre. Still, I was curious enough that, when I stumbled across said album on sale at the Natick Newbury Comics for $8.99, and briefly previewed it at their in-store listening station, I decided to give it a chance. Whiskeytown's Strangers Almanac would go on to easily earn the top spot on my year end list for 1997.

That summer, I would also see what I still consider to be my best free show ever (not including shows for which I attended free because I was on the guest list, of course), Whiskeytown and Hazeldine at Bill's Bar on Lansdowne Street. The stories were already circulating that Ryan Adams' unstable personality would often lead to erratic performances, but he and his bandmates didn't disappoint that night. Hazeldine was impressive as the opening act as well, so I proceeded to the merchandise table, where Caitlin Cary sold me a copy of, and raved about, their latest, How Bees Fly.

A few years later, as a solo artist, Adams would again deliver one of my most memorable shows ever, an acoustic performance at the Kendall Cafe, which had a capacity of about 50 people. This was obviously before Adams' popularity had peaked, and we were lucky enough to secure the second closest table to the stage by making a dinner reservation. David Ryan played a tremendous set of songs from his solo debut, Heartbreaker, as well as some Whiskeytown favorites, and was charismatic and hilariously entertaining, even telling a story about how, while riding the train down south, an older African-American lady had made fun of his mop-like hair by referring to him as Edward Scissorhands.

Unfortunately, Whiskeytown wouldn't release another album until after their breakup in 1999. My intense desire for new Whiskeytown sounds was partially satisfied by the reissue of their debut, Faithless Street, in 1998. 2001's posthumous (so to speak) release, Pneumonia, would prove to be another masterpiece, even if it did stray somewhat from their country-rock formula, with many of the songs heading in a more pop-oriented direction.

Maybe Whiskeytown's perch atop most, if not all, bands in this genre (in my opinion) is due in part to their short history. They released only three proper albums, and all three are outstanding. There will be no Fab 40 double-duty for Ryan Adams, though. Despite his masterful solo debut, Heartbreaker, and some worthy material beyond this, his recent solo career has proven to be a disappointment. Maybe this is evidence that, had they remained together, Whiskeytown would've eventually disappointed as well, but they are the beneficiary of their brief existence and remain, quite possibly, my favorite alt-country band ever.

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