>A fitting start

>Okay cards on the table, Ryan Adams is a God to me. As a result I felt slightly guilty when Houses on the Hill came up on the ipod as it is from an album by none other than Ryan. However rather than his solo work which I listen to more than any other it comes from Strangers Almanac by Whiskeytown – his now defunct band who became alt-country royalty.

I really haven’t listened to this in full more than once before and the immediate thing that strikes me is how crisp the production is. There could certainly be an argument that it is overproduced as the harmonies, violin and acoustic picking all sound clean as a whistle. I very much doubt this holds up as a criticism but it is a marked contrast to the at times rugged and highly personal feel of Adams’ solo output. It’s interesting to note that the lead producer was Jim Scott who is most closely associated with Wilco and has also worked with Crowded House, Tom Petty and Radiohead. This is a man with formidable credentials and experience of producing large bands which perhaps is an explanation for the polished end product. These songs sound perfect for middle of the road US radio stations in the Mid-West. Inn Town is a frankly sedate opening which is forgotten within moments of a new song beginning. Not that things become noticeably remarkable until 16 Days appears four tracks in. A gorgeous story telling song which hints at what was to follow in Adams’ solo career – there is a hint of Springsteen here although the writing is very basic by comparison. The improvement continues as Everything I Do follows straight away. This is the stand-out track for me with Wilco style understated instrumentation supporting a raw, open-hearted vocal delivery from Adams. The lyrics encapsulate the frustration of a young girl growing up – hardly what you’d expect from a band of twenty something blokes. I still can’t help but feel an opportunity is missed to explore the emotional state as room seems to be made to allow for a needless bit of guitar noodling but I guess being in a band is about compromise. The hammond organ plays a key role in this song. Then I’m afraid the album goes into drift – Houses on the Hill are plodding at best, Turn Around is a half-hearted attempt at The Cure, and the other tracks fail to catch fire. Interest picks up again with Avenues which is a short but poignant lament of a man who can’t accept his love has moved on. The album closer Not Home Anymore is a sense of what could have been as it brims with brooding menace of a relationship gone bad. It is a real shame that it is one of only three or four songs where the band as a whole gel together. There are too many fillers here which so often are the product of compromise between members. It is no surprise that touring this album saw numerous line-up changes in no small part as a result of Adams’ volatile character. I guess some people just aren’t meant to be part of a team.

Enjoyable enough but too often forgettable given the talent on show.


16 days live
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Published in: on 28/07/2010 at 7:08 pm  Comments (4)