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Music Review: Whiskeytown – Stranger’s Almanac

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Had I known almost 10 years ago that Whiskeytown (and Ryan Adams) were so good, I may have paid more attention the night I was exhausted and my then-boyfriend (now-husband) dragged me out to see them play at a local bar in our hometown.

I admit, I was so tired I dozed a bit, and I never even had the strength to stand and watch the band. Almost a decade later, I realize the error of my ways.

I blew a chance to see (maybe even meet?) the guy who sings some of my favorite songs, such as “"La Cienega Just Smiled", “When the Stars Go Blue”, and “Harder Now That It's Over".

And, of course, appreciate the album Stranger’s Almanac.

Critics say this was Whiskeytown's penultimate album. Ryan Adams was a mere 22 at the time of the album's release, and the band went on to launch the careers of four-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter-guitarist Adams, fiddler-singer-songwriter Caitlin Cary, and singer-songwriter-guitarist Phil Wandscher. Now out in re-release, Stranger's Almanac is a deluxe, two-CD edition.

Disc One features standouts like “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight”, “Yesterday’s News”, and, above all, “Dancing With the Women at the Bar”, which I listened to about a billion times before I tore myself away to listen to the rest of the disc.

The first disc also includes “Inn Town”, “16 Days”, “Everything I Do”, “Houses on the Hill”, “Turn Around”, “Waiting to Derail”, “Avenues”, “Losering”, “Somebody Remembers the Rose”, and “Not Home Anymore”.

Rounding out Disc One are some live in-the-studio radio performances from September 1997, including “Houses on the Hill”, “Nurse With the Pills”, “I Don’t Care What You Think About Me”, “Somebody Remembers the Rose”, and “Turn Around”.

Disc Two features more standout songs, such as the acoustic version of “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight”, the early version of “Houses on the Hill”, the early version of “Dancing With the Women at the Bar”, a remake of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”, and “Whither, I’m a Flower” from the Hope Floats soundtrack.

Also included on Disc Two is an acoustic cover of Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone", as well as previously unreleased songs from the Barn’s On Fire sessions, including acoustic versions of “16 Days”, “Somebody Remembers the Rose”, and “Avenues”.

The disc also contains early versions of “The Rain Won’t Help You When It’s Over” and “Ticket Time”, the alternate version of “Turn Around”, “Theme for a Trucker” from The End of Violence soundtrack, and the songs “Indian Gown”, “My Heart is Broken”, “Kiss & Make Up”, “Barn’s On Fire”, “Breathe”, “Luxury Liner”, “Streets of Sirens”, and “10 Seconds”.

While Disc One has a very Alt-Country flavor, Disc Two entertains different moods, such as rock and roll ("Yesterday's News" and "Losering") and blues ("Everything I Do").

Stranger's Almanac is the must-have collection for Whiskeytown fans, as well as fans of Alt-Country and, particularly, Ryan Adams. It’s clear to me now that Adams was always bound for a solo career, even at the youthful age of 22.

But I wouldn’t mind a Whiskeytown reunion tour… just to make up for last time.

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  • It is a great album. It is astounding at how large Ryan Adams collection of work is, and how really good so much of it is. Looks like I’m gonna have to throw out some extra cash for the reissue now.

  • svorot

    note that penultimate means “next-to-last”, as ultimate originally meant “last”. while ultimate has come to mean “unsurpassed”, penultimate still only means “next-to-last”.

  • Pat the Expat

    “Critics say this was Whiskeytown’s penultimate album.”

    so does everyone who knows what the word “penultimate” means. LOL

  • Pardon my misuse of “pentultimate.” Regardless, it’s about the music, isn’t it? Glad to see at least there’s no argument about the excellence of this CD set! 🙂