Review Summary: The album that kick-started Adams career is a must for any Ryan Adams fan.
Stranger’s Almanac by Whiskeytown
Whiskeytown, an alternative country band from Raleigh, North Carolina was fronted by the (in)famous Ryan Adams and supported by Caitlin Cary, Phil Wandscher, Eric "Skillet" Gilmore and Mike Daly. After disbanding in 1999, both Adams and Cary have had successful solo careers. They were also the only members of the band that was constant members since they started in 1994. Their first album, “Faithless Street” scored them a successful record deal with Outpost, imprint of Geffen Records.
“Stranger’s Almanac” was the band first major label debut, released in 1997 it was the record that put Ryan Adams on the map, showing both his excellent vocal qualities as well as his songwriting. Although this was mostly shadowed by (at least in the press) the view of Adams as a hard partying and heavy drinking artist who was hard to work with. Something that explains the numerous changes of members throughout the years. The lineup for Stranger’s Almanac was as follows:
Ryan Adams - acoustic & electric guitars, singing, banjo, piano, percussion
Phil Wandscher - electric guitar, singing, organ, percussion
Caitlin Cary - violin, singing
Steven Terry - drums, singing, percussion
Jeff Rice - bass guitar
The album got overall positive criticism from magazines such as Rolling Stone claiming: If there's to be a nirvana among the bands that are imprecisely dubbed alternative country, look to Whiskeytown."
The album kick starts with the snappy tunes of acoustic guitars in “Inn Town” with Cary’s violin behind it before Adams a distinctive vocals comes in for the opening verse. At least to me, the lyrics (written by both Adams and Wandscher) aren’t making much sense and don’t affect me very much yet there are some memorable lines and the chorus got some nice backup vocals. “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart” got a more distinct country feel, it’s more upbeat with percussions and electric guitar-riffs accompanying Adams’ vocals. It’s a great listen that sticks in your head and Adams’ vocals and harmonica works flawlessly. “Yesterday’s News” is rockier and can be compared to songs from Ryan Adams excellent solo album “Rock N Roll”. Although a short song, only weighing in 2:49 it is a nice addition to the album, adding a different sound to it.
In “16 Days” it’s back to basics again. Violin, acoustic guitars and light drumming. This song is more of a duet between Adams and Cary, with vocal backup from Cary on the verses and the rest of the band on the choruses. It is a good song, though the song tend to get slightly repeating after a few listens. “Everything I Do” makes me laugh every time I see the title. Mostly because the name reminds me of a famous song by a similar named artist, namely Bryan Adams. A story tells about a gig Ryan Adams did in Nashville, where a “fan” repeatedly requested Ryan to play “Summer of ‘69” which resulted in Adams throwing the so-called “fan” out of the venue. The song itself isn’t as funny to listen to; it is repetive and doesn’t leave anything memorable. Some people might find it appealing though, it shows some blues influence actually.
“Turn Around” is a gem worth mentioning. Yet again it starts slow, mellow and acoustic before the song transforms into a rockier tune. It got some heavy bassing going throughout the song and a very neat old-school country guitar solo. The chorus can easily be called the weakest link of the song but the overall feeling of the song is still great, due to various reasons such as those mentioned earlier as well as some out of the ordinary production for a country song.
As some may have noticed, I’m very fond of Adams’ rockier songs. “Waiting To Derail” is no exception. It starts off right away with electric guitar and keeps going solid with a nice drum buildup. Another great rock track basically. The rest of the album is packed with slow country pop and ballads. Songs such as “Avenues” and “Losering” is very similar but not all bad. They are both solid country pop songs and they work effectively in the genre with harmonica fills and backup vocals. “Somebody Remembers The Rose” goes on the same path, but is a bit sharper than the previous ones, mostly due to excellent writing by Adams and Wandscher, as well as superb singing. Concluding is “Not Home Anymore” with an unnecessary long intro and the whole song feels uninspiring. The tempo is slow yet the instrumentals really put Ryan’s voice in the corner on this one, probably his weakest vocal moment on “Stranger’s Almanac”.
Overall, I like this album a lot. I had never heard of them before and I have quite recently gotten into Ryans solo albums. I like what I hear, I have since the minute I heard Adams’ sing always appreciated his talent as a musician and singer and “Stranger’s Almanac” prove me right once again, yet in a different setting. Caitlin Cary’s violin and musicianship adds a nice new dimension to the songs and takes his music to swirling new heights.