Though the Ryan Adams tour-du-forcefield appears to be fully in-tact around North Carolina, it’s nice to know he still sings of us often. This latest gem, featuring husband and wife Jason Isbell & Amanda Shire is as good as any recent performance my ears have had the pleasure of hearing.
I don’t know if there has been a single more influential medium on my playlists than movie trailers the last few years1 and the latest is the trailer for Aloha, writer/director Cameron Crowe’s first movie in four years. The song is ‘First’ by Cold War Kids and it’s a great excuse to watch the trailer over and over again, which I had to do anyway to try to figure out the gist of the movie. I’m not sure I have it figured out yet, but I don’t think that will keep me from wanting to see the movie. Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray, and John Krasinski sounds like a pretty compelling draw to me.
“I guess everything does change except what we choose to recall”.
Tonight I’m heading out to ring in the new year with the Avett Brothers and a few thousand of my closest friends1. Buckle your seatbelt, this is going to go from zero to ridiculous quickly.
Out of three Avett Brothers concerts I’ve attended in my life, two were NYE shows (Charlotte in 2013; Greenville, SC in 2011). This year they come to Raleigh, my hometown, and just too much for me to pass up even though I pledged to give my wife a reprieve after dragging her to three AB shows in two years. My ticket for this year was punched before we even stepped foot in Charlotte last year.
Though my sample size is small, I have never come away disappointed from an Avett Brothers show. This is notable because before each show I walk in with the perfect setlist in mind – a sure prelude for disappointment. The catalog, to my ears, is deep; the stage presence and performance dynamic in a way that breathes new life into songs that long since eluded my attention.
In short, setlists fascinate me, especially the setlist for a show put on by the same group on the same day in the same state2 every year. I don’t know if Scott, Seth, et al consider it carefully or if they just go with what they want to play and let it ride. I thought it might be fun to go a little FiveThirtyEight on this, but I don’t want to take it too far. I decided that counting album tracks per show would be as far as I would take it, and include any other kind of stat that falls below that on the minutia scale. That leaves me with notes like: most played song (‘Go to Sleep’, all seven shows); best represented album (Emotionalism); most show opens (seven tied at 1); longest dormancy for a song (‘Pretty Girl from Chile’, 2008–2013); most encore appearances (‘I and Love and You’, ‘Salvation Song’ tied at 2); biggest spread of setlist position (‘Talk on Indolence’, #4 in 2008, to #30 – last song of the encore of the longest show so far – in 2011).
I’m shocked that ‘Go to Sleep’ is the song that made every show, mostly because it’s one of those songs that flies below my radar. I listened to it to refresh my memory and immediately thought, “Ahh yes, that one!”. Emotionalism is my favorite album, though I find it interesting how well represented I and Love and You is … or do I? Last year, I correctly predicted3 that ‘Open-Ended Life’ would open the show. This year I have no similar such predictions or other setlist premonitions. If there’s one thing that I’ve gleaned from looking at all of these setlists4, it’s that I’m in for a great show no matter what.
- I feel comfortable calling my fellow concertgoers close because I can’t imagine a better filtering criteria if I ever really did have to identify my closest few thousand friends.↩
- For simplicity’s sake, we’ll either choose to ignore 2011’s Greenville, SC show or, since I actually attended that one, we’ll just merge North Carolina and South Carolina and call it Carolinas because, let’s be honest, that’s how most of the country sees us anyway, isn’t it?↩
- Lucky guess. It’s an obvious opener from an album they released that year. I think they could sell pretty much any song in their live catalog as an opener.↩
- Setlists sourced primarily from Setlist.fm: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 (reddit), 2007. Setlist.fm data stops at 2007. I turned to reddit for continuity for 2008 which was missing from Setlist.fm, but laziness prevented me from using it for everything prior to 2007.↩
Editor’s Note: This month’s check-in with The Collector transpired a little differently than last time. Here are The Collector’s thoughts, all at once. Enjoy. I sat on this for a while, hoping to turn it into more of a conversation, so it’s my fault it is being posted with expired information regarding Taylor Swift’s then-still-unreleased new album, 1989.
Haircut be damned: Well I’ve covered a lot of ground since we last chatted but if you’re asking right now I’m in pop overload. I’ve been on a big Sam Smith kick for a while, both the acoustic and regular version of “Latch” (which is really Disclosure I know) and “Stay with me” but “I’m Not the Only One” is also a wonderful soulful song. The first time I encountered Sam Smith was when he was on a latenight show (either Fallon or Conan) a while back and it took me a while to get over that haircut. I’ve moved on from that now and just think he has one of the most wonderful voices in music right now, and the music on “Latch” is amazing but the acoustic version really makes it a completely different song.
The 47 percent: The other recent track I’ve been listening to a lot is … Taylor Swift. If I’m honest, at least 47% of the reason my response has been delayed is the internal debate over how upfront to be about this, but here goes. I’m coming out of the closet, I am, and have for a while now known that I am, a Taylor Swift fan. Her new track is great and always puts me in a great mood, I’ve not been overly impressed with the next two singles from her latest album but am withholding judgement till the full album comes out. Seriously though, I’ve enjoyed most of her singles since she debuted six (SIX!!!) years ago. The other day I was picking up a friend for lunch, her classic track “love story” was on the radio and I absolutely was blasting it. I thought I had timed it so that it would be over by the time I actually made my pickup but a wrench was thrown in my jam when the unnamed friend had taken it upon himself to walk out to the street corner near his office for a quicker pickup. As he opened the door he had to have caught me turning down the last few bars but I guess if he recognized it he’d have to admit he listened to Taylor too. It went unmentioned if it was recognized.
Seriously though, she’s a very talented songwriter and great singer and cute as a button. Yeah she’s got quite the dating history but well what teen/twenty something’s dating history wouldn’t look slightly ridiculous in the media spotlight. And yeah all of her songs are fairly tied up with young love and teenage problems but… so were Chuck Berry’s, strangely it wasn’t a problem when all of his songs were absorbed with teenage themes and he is as close to an inventor of rock as there is. But heaven forbid the little blonde girl put her heartbreak to words. Seriously where would pop music be without those themes, this criticism of Taylor is so derivative and weak and indicative of hipsterism. Anyways, end rant, I enjoy her music and don’t care who knows.
Now that I’ve probably broken your intent of this chat, on to concert talk.
Farm Aid: I had the fortune to attend two pretty significant concerts that came to the Raleigh area the last few weeks. The first was Farm Aid, which us getting Farm Aid seems like a pretty big deal to me but it was also a great concert (and great food I had this like half pound slice of ham in bbq sauce on a roll that was pretty amazing) with a lineup of people I might not have made it out to see individually but definitely feel like my life is richer for having seen live. Willie Nelson’s son Lukas was a revelation, you gotta figure if your dad’s Willie Nelson you’re probably in a band just for something to do but he is an incredibly gifted technical guitarist with a great voice. I enjoyed the whole lineup despite a too short set by local band Delta Mae (they brought an upright piano on stage instead of wimping out with a keyboard). The other finds for me were Gary Clarke Jr. and Preservation Hall Jazz Band which are both worth checking out.
There were the better known acts some of which were good to check off the bucketlist and some like Dave Matthews are always good for a show (more on that later). I’m glad I got to see Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and of course The Coug live. Coug is definitely starting to show his age by the way. Neil Young got the most political about evil corporations and took a swipe at Sen. Richard Burr, I was probably one of the few in the crowd who didn’t have a problem with him getting political but not taking a swipe at anyone on the ballot this year. I also was pleasantly surprised by Jack White’s set, not that I don’t enjoy his music but he’s not someone I would have felt a need to go see live but he did an amazing set and Seven Nation Army is def great live.
But really, that ham roll, unreal.
Bluegrass: The other big concert I got to go to was the last night of Wideopen Bluegrass festival and have since been on a Del McCoury kick. The other great outcome of the festival which is in it’s second of 4 years in Raleigh is that a local station 102.3 that had just moved to another number decided to play bluegrass in the run up to the festival rather than sit empty and have continued since. They play Union Station’s “Bright Sunny South” about once an hour it feels like and of course it’s experimental and doesn’t have any advertisers yet so is a great break from the standard radio fare. I also bought a bunch of classic bluegrass albumns but have not digested them yet.
Dave Matthews: Other recent development is I’ve been back on a big Dave kick. Visiting a friend who had a large vinyl collection a couple months back drunk me fixated on all the Dave records for some reason. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of Dave concerts over the years and enjoyed his clearly hammered set at Farm Aid, but I don’t know if I’m mellowing in my old age but have really begun to enjoy his music in a way I never did before when it just felt like a social necessity to like his band.
Hipster Cred: I ran into Son Little’s “The River” on some music service the other day and have had it on repeat since, in a sign that they have a great promotions and targeted marketing strategy behind them… NPR feels the same way as of 2 days ago.
DR: Ryan Adams released his umpteenth album, Ryan Adams, last week and JB and I felt like it was a perfect time to finally throw together our all-time top ten Ryan Adams song list. We’ve sort of collaborated on lists before, but never the same list, so this is going to be interesting. We did a little pre-work, each of us nominating songs to be considered. The point of that exercise was basically to help me brush up on the catalog – I’m not as well versed in anything after Love is Hell, which means depending on how this list shapes up, I might not even be remotely qualified to be having this conversation. Naturally, this means I’m going to lean heavily toward the Whiskeytown / Heartbreaker / Gold eras, while JB will help balance us out with the later stuff. This should be fun. Without further ado, let’s get started. I planned to kick things off with number ten, but I really need JB to set the tone for this list, otherwise it’s going to get out of hand really quick.
JB: Well, I truly intend to set the tone, but not in the way you think. Instead of giving you number 10, I am going to give you a couple that just missed the cut for me. Now keep in mind, with this type of back and forth we may not get everything out of our top 10, but it should be a little more representative and even involve a bit of strategery. The most difficult cut for me came in the form of Adams’ disarming cover of Oasis’ classic ‘Wonderwall’. Including this track may have been a form of cheating, but in this case it would have been worth it. Adams does so well to change the tone and highlight the amazing range in his vocal talent. This was a tough cut for me. Also missing the cut for me: ‘Two’, ‘Born Into a Light’, ‘Faithless Street’, and ‘Firecracker’. I never thought ‘Firecracker’ would miss the cut, but that should just whet your appetite for what’s to come.
DB: Not exactly what I was going for, but you did at least set the tone, so I’ll take it. I’m with you, ‘Firecracker’ was just outside the cut for me, but one of your other cuts is in my Top 10 so we’ll just have to see how this shapes up. Okay, let’s get this thing started.
10. ‘Nuclear’, Demolition
Did any of the critics actually like Demolition? I loved it, but it also came just as my Ryan Adams fandomonium was hitting its stride. Adams himself wasn’t a fan, though it had more to do with how the album was put together than the tracks themselves. Other personal faves include ‘Cry on Demand’ and ‘Desire’, and one more that I hope appears later in this list (that is, if I didn’t inadvertently eliminate it from the list with this pick.)
9. ‘Let it Ride’, Cold Roses (Disc 2)
His debut effort with the band the Cardinals. The band was formed informally in 2001 with JP Bowersock who he met through his neighbor. This double album is beyond solid and really brings Adams back to his alt-country roots, which I love as you will quickly be able to deduce from my contributions to this list. I fear this selection will leave one of my Whiskeytown favorites out in the cold, but that is the nature of this type of exchange so I will ‘Let it Ride’. In the end Cold Roses is too good an album to not have a selection on this list.
8. ‘Excuse me While I Break My Own Heart’, Strangers Almanac
Our first and unapologetically not our last Whiskeytown era track. This track somehow eluded my running list of Adams favorites over the years. It re-entered my consciousness while researching for this list and I just can’t believe I’ve been missing it all these years. Adams draws me in with a higher percentage of his moody, slower stuff, but I love this bit of uptempo goodness from him (ahem, them).
7. ‘When Stars go Blue’, Gold
This is the toughest call of them all in this format. It is safely in my Top 10, but I am afraid this is going to bump out some I had higher on my list. However, I think it makes sense on this list for many reasons. It is without a doubt his most commercially successful song, even though that success does not involve him on vocals, see Bono, Tim McGraw or Haley. I think this song is probably the best representation of Adams as a songwriter with its country pop sound. It also speaks to his greatness as a songwriter that he could write something that has been adapted so wonderfully by a disparate group of artists.
6. ‘Two’, Easy Tiger
Serendipitously, this song lands exactly where I wanted it, though it takes some of the luster off the shine knowing it was cut from your final ten. I went back and forth between putting this song and ‘Hallelujah’ from Demolition here, but this is clearly too high of a spot for ‘Hallelujah’ (which really belongs at 10 in a tie with ‘Nuclear’). The thing about ‘Two’ and the reason I had to put it here is that it’s my favorite song of anything Adams has released since Rock ‘n Roll. That alone doesn’t make it a top ten lock – it’s also one of the catchiest hooks, both in lyrics and melody, that Adams has produced in his prolific career. That makes it the kind of song that stays with you long after a listen and pops up from time to time in your mind whether you’ve heard it recently or not.
5. ‘To Be Young (is to be sad)’, Heartbreaker
The first entry (though I am sure not the last) from Adams’ debut solo effort. Written after a bad break up (ironically spelling the end of Whiskeytown), the album contains the highs and lows of someone dealing with heartbreak. ‘To be Young …’ is probably the highpoint tonally and my favorite up-tempo Adams song. The guitar riffs (and copious quantities of drugs) on this song carry you away and for that brief 3 minutes make you forget whats her name (I like to think it’s Parker Posey).
4. ‘Don’t Be Sad’, Pneumonia (Whiskeytown)
I struggled a lot with this pick. I originally had a second Gold track slotted for this spot, but weighing your feelings of ‘Don’t Be Sad’ gave me pause and forced me to reconsider. Gold is probably, from top to bottom, Adams’ most impressive work, but it doesn’t have the single that stands above anything that will make this top five. ‘Don’t Be Sad’ is a classic Adams fast moving ballad; a simple song with relatively few lyrics. But the depth contained in those few lyrics gets a lot of mileage out of the less than three and a half minute runtime.
3. ‘Hallelujah’, Demolition
Not sure I would have ever guessed two tracks from the jam session that became Demolition would make it on this list, but ‘Hallelujah’ is the type of Ryan Adams track I love the most, with its folky sound and country twang. It may not be how Adams views himself, but I think it is him at his best in part because it draws so strongly from his roots as a boy from eastern North Carolina (roots we share in common). As with a lot of his music, the lyrics center on who he is and who he wants to be, and that is something to which we all can relate. All in all, this is just a masterclass and while it is not my #1, at this point, we are splitting hairs.
2. ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’, Heartbreaker
Ryan Adams. North Carolina. His home state. My home state. Need I say more? I’m a homer in the worst way and despite my best efforts at denial I can’t escape it. Ignoring that, I love this song and its beautiful simplicity. Earlier this year, I was reminded just how subtly powerful Adams’ vocals are when I watched a video of him performing a cover of ‘Neutron Dance’ at Code Conference. When I listen to ‘Carolina’ carefully enough, it amazes me how much you can get a similar sense of that power in such a quiet song. ‘Carolina’ is the ultimate achievement in songwriting, composition, and performance and belongs in the conversation of Adams masterpieces.
1. ‘Sit and Listen to the Rain’, Pneumonia (Whiskeytown)
JB: It was always going to be this song. In reality, this was a competition for second and while our personal list varied quite dramatically in some cases, this is the one we both agreed on. As I said earlier, Ryan Adams struggles with who he is, where he is from and what all that means. He is the boy who grew up in Jacksonville, NC, but he is also the man who burned the midnight oil in New York City, and the man who turned over a new leaf in Los Angeles. He has always longed to be somewhere else and be someone else, as he rifs, “Sit around, dream away the place I’m from.” It seems ironic that this journey has brought us home. The song that longs for the future, but was written at home. As you read this list and enjoy the sounds, it’s home that makes us who we are and shapes our future. It is all these places that makes Ryan Adams who he is, and while he has certainly burned bright I am just thankful he isn’t done writing his ‘Wonderwall’.
DR: Well said, JB. My appreciation for the song is probably a little more superficial, but no less significant. When I first heard ‘Sit and Listen to the Rain’ I knew immediately it had a permanent place in my all-time rotation. ‘Sit and Listen …’ is my go to song when I want to let my mind wander off and ponder; when I want to remember; when I want to dream. The best part for me through the years, whether real or imagined, is having this vision of Ryan Adams sitting on a porch somewhere in North Carolina writing this song. And so, sometimes when it rains, I’ll walk out to our front porch, sit, listen and wonder if that’s what he was feeling.
Photo Credit: Laura Musselman (via Flickr)
Music group Spoon released a new album recently, and through various podcasts and blog posts, JB & I were separately introduced to this group who just released their eighth album. This kind of reminds me of that time last year when I was introduced to The National by a flood of locally-sourced tweets popping up on my timeline the night they played Red Hat Amphitheater, but I digress.
Anyway, in the midst of us sharing our newfound enthusiasm, lo and behold, we find out fellow NW contributor and longtime friend DG has been a fan of Spoon for years. Not only that, he has all of their albums. This prompted me to dub DG The Collector because this isn't the first time we've “discovered” a new band or artist and then find out that DG has their entire archive – not only does he collect, but he keeps his nuggets of joy all to himself.
Well we will have that no more. As part of the expansion of the content on Notably Worthless, I'm going to start checking in with DG on a regular basis, specifically to find out who he's figuratively spinning in iTunes or wherever else. We'll start with this, an email exchange ported to blog form. JB was listening in – err, reading in, that is – and his comments are included throughout.
So, DG, who have you been spinning most recently?
His initial response is a random link without explanation. I ask if that’s his answer, rambling between the two of us ensues until finally I press …
So, Dan, who you be spinning lately?
DG: Well so awkward question, last thing I bought was the ‘Guardians…’ soundtrack which ain’t exactly new.
Doesn’t have to be new, necessarily. If you care to elaborate on that, feel free. Otherwise, carry on with something new.
DG: Oh, Black Keys then. Got into them on the last album and really enjoying the current. ‘Little Black Submarines’ and ‘Fever’ are two tracks that amazingly for someone with my attention span I have yet to find the overplayed point on.
JB: They are also kid approved. At least my kid, that is.
DG: Also I heard Tom Petty's new album the other day, want to hear more.
On the Ryan Adams video, is this some type of Chris Gaines thing of him parodying Meat Loaf?
JB: Well, either way so happy to have him back in my life.
DG: I feel that's a pretty weak lead single, I'm not saying I'd skip it if it played after the lead single on an album but not sure it makes me want to go out and buy it as a single or album (yeah I'm kidding myself like I won't buy his album either way).
JB: It honestly amazes me there is an album of his I don’t own.
The conversation devolves from there, somehow getting on the topics of Mandy Moore, Avril Lavigne and the Nickelback guy, and so much much much more. I had to try to get us back on track.
Wow, Petty's back? JB and I were actually talking about the Traveling Wilburys a couple of weeks ago. I think there was a period where that's pretty much all we listened to on family road trips. Has there been anything like that in recent memory? A "supergroup" of sorts with that much talent?
DG: Way to date yourself, though that probably is the last "supergroup" of widely recognizable musicians that gets anywhere close. There is a lot of things that call themselves "supergroups" in that they are made up of members of other successful groups… Tired Pony with the lead singer of Snow Patrol and Zoey Deschanel is one but I don't know that they're that well known, Broken Bells with DJ Dangermouse and the lead singer of the Shins and the Postal Service which had Death Cab for Cutie's lead singer and other people most haven't heard of but are pretty successful producers. I think part of it is the atomization/increasing genrefication of music, there's not really as many universally recognized artists outside of pop and it's fairly common there for folks to feature others. Who would be of the universally recognizable stature of most of the Wilburies now?
Also, Spoon is headlining Hopscotch Festival Friday Sept. 5th.
You make a fair point about the lack of similarly recognizable figures. If you tried to put a group like that together today, you’re probably talking about a supergroup made up of Bono, Chris Martin, Beyonce, and Eminem.
Speaking of The Shins, have you heard any of the tracks from soundtrack rainmaker Zach Braff’s Kickstarter funded movie Wish I Was Here? He told Rolling Stone he set out to mix things up a bit this time around, seeking more original content and even personally commissioning a new track from The Shins. I have their song ‘So Now What’ and the song from the movie trailer (‘Hero’, by Family of the Year) in my everyday playlist and it seems like he’s succeeded again in single-handedly changing the shape of my recent downloads.
JB: Zach Braff sucks.
DR: Well, I don't think we could pick a better way to wrap up this month's interview. It's been a pleasure, gentlemen. I look forward to checking in with you next month!
Photo: © Copyright 2014 Marvel Entertainment
Two years ago, I attended my first live Avett Brothers concert – one of their annual New Year's Eve shows, this one a rare venture outside of North Carolina in Greenville, South Carolina's Bi-Lo Center1. Though I'd been casually introduced to the Avett Brothers' music a few years prior, it took me some time to warm to them, finally slipping into my realm of obsession in the year leading up to my first New Year's Eve experience2. Continue reading