Whiskeytown was a mix of country music, punk rock and drunkenness. They were one of the forerunners of the alternative country movement. They were also a revolving cast of characters save for their two leads, Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary. No other members of the band lasted more than a couple of years. Like so many other things involving Ryan Adams, Whiskeytown self-destructed after a while. In the few years they survived, however, they became one of the most influential elements to alt-country, and spouted many would-be torch carriers.
They officially released only three albums, but there is a plethora of unreleased material available on the Internet. Ryan Adams writes music like I eat sandwiches: with finesse, gusto and at regular intervals. I swear he has written and recorded more unreleased music than he put on officially sanctioned record-store shelves. My notes on Forever Valentine say that Adams got the band together in the studio wanting to record a full album but without the label's knowledge. I can't say whether this was the first time he had pulled that trick, but it certainly wasn't the last. I haven't the slightest idea why he decided to record so much music without making it officially available to anyone, but fans are all the better for it. Whiskeytown broke up some ten years ago, but with a little digging their are still songs to find.
I don't believe I have ever talked about an unofficially released, studio-recorded, non-live album before on Bootleg Country. Yet they are an essential part of my bootleg experience. So many artists have recorded songs, and entire albums that for whatever reason never get officially released. There are so many gems out there that can't be purchased at a record store, but need to be heard.
Whenever I listen to Whiskeytown, I immediately realize how much I miss hearing Ryan Adams duet with a feminine voice. Caitlin Cary adds so much depth to his songs. Ryan often writes songs of great heart ache and Cary's harmonies both strengthen it and add to its fragility. On songs like "Easy Hearts" the mixture of Ryan and Caitlin's voice makes part of my insides tingle and weep. It is also one of two songs (the other being "Don't Wanna Know Why") that made it onto the officially released Pneumonia, but in slightly different versions. I actually prefer this version of "Easy Hearts" as it is more raw and emotional than the one on Pneumonia.
Like so much of Adam's output much of Forever Valentine is full of melancholy and heartbreak. The guy just knows how to write a sad song. My favorites are when he matches the mournful lyrics with music and melodies that elevate the sad bastard lyrics into something more. Songs like "Anyone But Me (aka Dial Tone)" retain the depths of sorrow, but are also a great deal of fun to listen to, and sing along.
Not all is so depressing, on "Rays of Light" they unleash their inner punk rockers and spill loud, distorted guitars all over the place. It is a hint of what would come years later when Ryan unleashed his Strokes-inspired album Rock N Roll.
Forever Valentine shows just how amazingly talented Ryan Adams is – who else would record a full album this good, only to leave most of it sitting on shelf for all eternity? It is also a great reminder of what a lovely voice Caitlin Cary has and makes me wonder why she hasn't found the success her (however brief) musical partner has had. Ryan Adams is currently retired from music. Potentially he has released everything he is going to release. If all you have is his officially released albums, you really are missing out. Go digging online and you can find so much more. Hopefully he'll be me and those sandwiches, I might give them up for a time, but I always come back for more.