Read my reviews of albums by Whiskeytown. This is not a list of all of Ryan Adams’ albums because he has a lot, I’ve only listened to a few which I didn’t like as much as these and, lastly, I’ve learned some things about him personally that make me less interested in listening to more of his work.
1995: Faithless Street (10/10)
Full disclosure: This is my favourite alt-country album ever so I cannot be objective. Second, I have only ever heard the expanded edition, and so some of my feelings for this record are tied to outtakes that weren’t actually present when the original album was released in 1995. So I guess my review is for the 1998 edition…
This album is, to my ears, the perfect alt-country record. It combines everything you’d want in the genre: strong songs, energetic but ragged performances, music that could pass for country or punk, etc. In my opinion, this is Adams’ best set of songs ever. I haven’t heard anywhere near most of his solo records, but it’s certainly his best set of songs while in Whiskeytown. So many of these songs resonate with me and if Adams is one of our great living songwriters (and that is a question for debate if there ever was one) then this is the record I would point to as making that case. (I have yet to find a solo record of his that I really like a lot.)
As an aside: now that Adams is so damn famous for covering Taylor Swift, will any of these youngins find their way to this record? I hope so.
I have nothing to say in criticism, so maybe my praise sounds a little hollow. But this is one of the few records I could put on again and again and again without getting tired of it.
My #3 album of 1993. Read my reviews of albums released in 1995.
1997: Strangers Almanac (7/10)
I wrote this in 2011:
Even overproduced, Whiskeytown are pretty awesome. Unfortunately, this was the follow up to a pretty great album which they then re-released with all its warts thereby creating the greatest album in alt country history. So this is surrounded by that. Three of the songs here appear in better, earlier versions on the Faithless Street re-release. (Adams has actually acknowledged their superiority.) This is not his best set of songs, though it is pretty good (especially compared to the solo stuff) but that isn’t really the problem.
The problem is the loads of keyboards, vocal overdubs, horns (!!!) and other shit that takes away from the band. (Even with a new rhythm section they still sound pretty great.) And the thing about Adams is that he sounds great with a great band, and with suitable production, but when you try to clean him up we’re left to focus on his songs and they don’t sound quite as good all polished.
I realize as I type that this is sounding negative and I didn’t want that. This is a good album. It is a very good album (though I must say I don’t like the closer at all) but it pales in comparison to the greatness that is the rerelease of their debut, which is maybe even top 5 American rock albums of the ’90s (top 10 anyway).
The issue is that I’ve heard a number of these songs in rawer better versions, which is why I have trouble loving this as much as the next person.
2001: Pneumonia (7/10)
The gospel – at least the gospel that I read – has it that this is Whiskeytown’s big attempt at a statement beyond alt country; that this is their do-everything pop rock album that puts them in the canon of great bands…or something like that. This rep definitely comes more than a little from the fact that the album was recorded well before it was released – allowing hype to build up – and because only half (or less) of the original material recorded made it on record.
The (released) results certainly show some versatility on the band’s part that may have been lacking with previous releases, and that is certainly admirable. But, much like Stranger’s Almanac, this album is over-produced. It also has more in common musically with Ryan Adams’ solo career than it does with the original version of Whiskeytown, who once put out the best alt country album ever.
By focusing on Adams’ hooks and his love of other genres beyond punk and country, they have abandoned their roots. The ambition is admirable but the results are just okay. I miss the old band; the band that turned me into an alt country fanatic.