February 5, 2012

Ryan Adams shines radiantly at Denver’s Temple Buell (2/4/12)

Ryan Adams’ music has been woven taut and wooly through so many parts of my life in the last seven years, and writing objectively about his jaw-droppingly good show last night at Denver’s Temple Buell Theater is tough. For me it was a parade of ventricle-punching, flushed-cheek-inducing song after song, and it felt like it was just for me. I was off in my own stratosphere.

The show for me was intensely personal, hearing these passionately executed, pure renditions of songs I never really thought I’d get to hear live, and especially not with that much potency and perfection. “Wonderwall”? “Please Do Not Let Me Go” (oh my heart), right into “English Girls Approximately”? He started with “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and encored with a cover of Alice in Chains’ “Nutshell”? It was almost too much for this one girl to take. Just like my mix I posted on Friday night, this was a personal thing for me — no detachment, just marveling. Hoping for the best, and –for once– getting it.

I’ve seen Ryan Adams a handful of other times, in 2006 and 2007, chasing after the magic I heard in all his records that I learned about and then started gorging myself on. When I saw him during those years, he was alternately in a very scattered, rambly place the one time I heard him play acoustic (at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts) and long-form electric jammy, the three times with the Cardinals. Every time I’ve seen him has been worth it, in its own way, but I have never been as satisfied as I was last night. This was something else entirely.

Ryan was focused and amiable, sang passionately with a voice that is sounding the best I’ve ever heard it, and lavished well-crafted songs on the spoiled crowd for two hours. All told, he sang 24 songs — well, 28 if you count fantastic on-the-spot creations like:

-”Climbing a Tree In My Yellow Pants (What Kind Of Cake Will I Have?)” (a brilliant example of the kind of song he would have written if Prozac had been around when he was a kid)
-”Mr. Cat You Are Soft As Fuck” (a somber piano ballad about his pet he misses at home)
-”Mr. Heckles” (a sweetly soaring, apologetic guitar tune for the man near me who yelled “play the good one!”):

-a final “Thank You” ditty to us all, before launching into “Come Pick Me Up” with harmonica that felt like it stopped hearts in that room. Even his fake songs sounded really good, showcasing just how amazingly effortless it seems for him to write solid songs, even on the fly. Last night he played almost twice as many songs as the only other acoustic set of his I’d seen, in SF.

After the 2006 San Francisco show, I lamented. I worried that I would never get to see my favorite, favorite gorgeous songs live and delivered well from Ryan, since he seemed to be teetering and veering off in another direction. I worried I’d missed the catharsis, the beauty I first fell so hard for. Therefore last night was deeply rewarding, to see him pull all his skill and eloquence together, to wow the (mostly) silent crowd with a cherry-picked setlist of new and old, to make my heart beat so hard I could hear it in my eardrums.

Oh My Sweet Carolina
Ashes & Fire
If I Am A Stranger
Dirty Rain
Winding Wheel
Sweet Lil Gal (23rd/1st)
Invisible Riverside
Everybody Knows
Let it Ride
Rescue Blues
Please Do Not Let Me Go
English Girls Approximately
Chains of Love
Lucky Now
Avenues (!!) (Whiskeytown)
New York, New York
Wonderwall (Oasis)
The End
16 Days (Whiskeytown)
Come Pick Me Up

Nutshell (Alice in Chains)
When Will You Come Back Home

Ryan rivals Jeff Tweedy for my favorite in the stage banter category. He was relaxed, funny, constantly talking to the audience (in that silent hall some people really ran with that privilege, yelling every blessed thing that flitted into their minds). But the night felt totally unvarnished — reminding me of the very best things about the house concerts we put together (the atmosphere of this one, in particular).

Ryan’s voice shone in this setting — the Temple Buell Theater has impeccable acoustics (we could even hear him shifting in his chair) and oozed quiet dignity. As I listened to him hold the whole crowd transfixed, singing these songs that he’s sang hundreds and thousands of times, I marveled at how nothing seemed trite. When the song started, he was fully present in the moment and giving it his all. His face scrunched, that slightly pouty lower lip wailed. Even when he took to the piano with his back to me, I could see his face reflected back in the glossy black instrument, brow furrowed. This wasn’t a mechanical night.

The warm feeling spreading over me during the show felt closest to the night my friend Andrew and I laid around on the floor of my living room and listened to Heartbreaker on vinyl. You appreciate the space and the sanctuary created to just sit and listen. There was nothing catchy or flashy about last night’s show. But it riveted me to my seat and took me off somewhere else completely. It felt like course after course of the perfect-sized small plates kept arriving at the table, each so rich and delicious. I left totally satisfied, glowing, and sated. Everyone around me had huge smiles on their faces, and there was a crackle of ebullience in the air. If I never see Ryan Adams live again, I will be happy after last night.

[photo by my friend Andrew, who was with me and has more megapixels in his phone camera than my retro-mazing Nokia. If you’re a visual learner, there’s a spot-on drawing here, down to the labels on Ryan’s shoes]

February 3, 2012

11 Best Other Ryan Adams Songs

Ryan should come hang out in my kitchen. Photo by David Black.

Ryan Adams is hanging out here in Denver this weekend, snowed in and tweeting his adventures as we collectively pass the time until his postponed show – Saturday, instead of tonight. I’m not good at waiting, so I’ve decided to compose a fierce rejoinder to my friend John Hendrickson’s confidently categorized list over at the Denver Post: The 11 Best Ryan Adams Songs of the Past 11 Years.”

As a person who apparently has 648 Ryan Adams-related songs in my iTunes library, whittling it down to eleven would be like someone picking a favorite child, beer, or ice cream. It cannot be done. However, these are eleven DANG fantastic songs from Ryan Adams that you may possibly have not heard, with which I would like to reply:all to Mr. Hendrickson.

These tunes are on the rare side — most were never officially released on an Adams album, or at least not in the version here. I also love all of them ferociously. They rip a small tear in the surface to reveal the staggering depth and ability Ryan has to pen these songs by the scads, like it just ain’t no thang. Just write ‘em on up before breakfast.

Here’s to six years of collecting them, and hopefully maybe seeing at least one live tomorrow night. Been a long time coming, this show.


Ghost (demo)
From the Cowboy Technical Sessions, this is my number one favorite Ryan Adams rarity. A raw alt-country gem, this always gets from the opening crisp smack of the drums to the way his voice cracks as he pleads, “I wanted you and I lost.” Six words that say so damn much.

Hard Way To Fall (live in Tilburg, 12/1/02)
I got this from a collection we call ‘Black Clouds’ in nerd fan land, and a more ornate version later appeared on 2005′s Jacksonville City Nights. But this one, oh this one stops me in my tracks. It is a naked, grey, stunning song on the night of its very first live performance. I can hear that aching space, the void in this song. It’s a hard thing to love anyone, anyhow.

Monday Night
This one was on the Bloodshot Records compilation Down To The Promised Land, and it makes me just want to roll through your fingers, dusty and loose. Recorded easy in an 8th Street NYC apartment, it’s as good as anything he’s released officially (like all of these).

The Bar Is A Beautiful Place
If you bought one of the first runs of Gold, you got this song as one of five on the “bonus” disc. My go-to song of choice for a particularly heady and confusing period in my life, from the opening piano chords I feel dizzy. The night is so young. This song cracks it wide open for me every time.

Hey Mrs. Lovely
This song first popped up live in 1999, and was recorded in Nashville in 2000 during the Destroyer sessions — a meandering little jewel of a song about an off-limits married woman that’s always made me smile (“and we started playing twister with our tongues / we probably should have scrapped the game and gave ourselves some hugs”). Ryan reinvented it with different lyrics on 2007′s Easy Tiger as the song “These Girls,” but this one sticks with me so much more.

The tinkly piano cadence in this song reminds me in the best way of “She’s A Rainbow” by The Rolling Stones, in that same slightly-off jangle effect. Released only in the UK as a bonus track to Vol. 1 of the Love Is Hell EP, it shows the lithe and playful vocabulary of our protagonist in one of my favorite outings.

The Battle (Caitlin Cary)
This song is a live favorite from the Whiskeytown days, officially released on Caitlin Cary’s 2002 record While You Weren’t Looking. It is essentially perfect – strong, sure, sad. I am not sure if Ryan wrote it, Caitlin wrote it, or if it was a collaboration, but I do know it brought me at least one bartender friend when it came on in a favorite local spot and I demanded to know whose iPod it was hooked up to the speakers. Because I want to be friends with that guy.

When The Music Don’t Come
There’s the opening count-off yell across the room in the studio, and then those bluesy chords start in with a swagger and Ryan is off running, his voice in marvelous form here. Almost like the upbeat book-end to my beloved “Hotel Chelsea Nights” (from the same sessions), this song is where the freedom comes and the lightning clouds lift.

This one is easy to find, sitting there solidly as track 9 on my favorite of all the Ryan Adams albums, the sad-bastard gut-punch perfection of Love Is Hell. It was also the first Ryan Adams song I ever heard. My reaction was instant and visceral; I yelled profanity at my car stereo as I sat there parked in the growing twilight outside my old office, under elm trees, spinning a borrowed CD. There’s this beautiful hesitation in the piano chords that makes this whole song sound uncertain to me. It found me at the perfect time.

Mega-Superior Gold
This blaze of a song sounds terrific always and forever driving down the wide stretches of California summer highway — a confident tune from the Pinkheart Sessions that is, as it claims, cocked & loaded-ready. I’d also say it is a good song to listen to while getting ready for a date, except for the brilliantly-spat line, “able to do as I’m told, babe,” because I don’t like being told what to do.

Awww shit … Look who got a website
Ripped from the auto-play music that soundtracked Ryan’s site redesign in 2006-ish, this remains sublimely lasers-all-the-time brilliant. It also talks about Ancient Sumerians a lot, and explains to us how his website is updated by witches. I love you, Ryan.

Point, set, match, Denver Post.


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October 1, 2011

may you one day carry me home (Ryan Adams in Denver)

I have been eyes-closed for an hour, blissfully listening to this recording of Ryan Adams at Denver’s Civic Theatre two weeks ago. It’s been the only sound in my house other than my bare foot tapping on the wood floor and the occasional profanity I’ve been yelling over how so very very very good this recording is.

When Ryan Adams played that rainy Thursday night, I couldn’t go to the show because I was hosting a marvelous candlelit little house concert of my own, but when I saw the setlist I near-doubled over at how flawless it had been. If I could have hand-picked a setlist, and then hand-picked the ways I wanted him to sing the songs (you know how sometimes you know an artist’s live catalog so well that you want the melody to go up at that one point in the song, like he did in Sweden that one time but not on the record? yeah, he did that), this recording would be the result. Ryan’s voice is perfect. The versions are inspired and heartbreakingly gorgeous.

I feel like using my blockbuster movie announcer voice to say, “If you download ONE Ryan Adams show this year, MAKE IT THIS ONE.” Holy shit, so good.

SEPTEMBER 15, 2011

- intro -
Oh My Sweet Carolina
(oh ho, he STARTED with this?!)
Ashes and Fire
- banter 1 -
My Winding Wheel
- banter 2 -
If I Am A Stranger
Damn, Sam (I Love a Woman That Rains)
Invisible Riverside
Let It Ride
- banter 3 -
Sweet Lil Gal (23rd/1st)
- banter 4 -
Dirty Rain
Everybody Knows
Please Do Not Let Me Go
Lucky Now
New York, New York
(reinvented. piano. whoa)
Blue Hotel
To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)
English Girls Approximately
(are you kidding me?!)
Carolina Rain

- encore banter -
Jacksonville Skyline
16 Days
This House Is Not For Sale (false start)
This House Is Not For Sale
Rescue Blues
(this could be the best version of this song I’ve EVER heard)
Come Pick Me Up


Thanks to Denver taper SxPxDxCx for making my season. Head over to his blog and thank him too.

June 28, 2011

we chase misprinted lies

The 1994 Jar of Flies EP from Alice in Chains was a favorite of wee 15-year-old Heather, an alt-country twanged collection of seven songs that melded the moodiness of AIC with occasional pop flourishes (witness “No Excuses”). That album is one of the few from my collection during those high school years that still holds up relatively well (also, my unparalleled artistic skills in drawing the AIC logo in pencil on my binders).

I’m pretty excited to hear Ryan Adams take on “Nutshell” from that EP, the b-side to the tour-only 7″ he is selling on his current European dates. This cover reminds me of some of his haunted 29-era songs. The other side of the single is “Empty Room,” a new tune that finds Ryan and wife Mandy Moore harmonizing.

Nutshell (Alice in Chains) – Ryan Adams

This is also not the first time Ryan has taken on the songs of Staley & Co. He’s a fan.

April 24, 2011

Ryan Adams: unannounced, with new songs in Los Angeles

On Thursday night, Ryan Adams showed up unannounced to open for Emmylou Harris at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles. The lucky crowd got to hear four completely stunning new songs (including “Dirty Rain“) that showcase that heartbreaking sound that I haven’t heard from Ryan in a while. The truth remains that his voice is one of the most piercing I know.

He also performed gorgeous versions of two of my more recent favorites: “Blue Hotel” and “Everybody Knows,” as well as his duet with Emmylou. The crowd reaction is hilarious; at the beginning of one new song, you can hear a girl asking the name of the artist, and the guy next to her saying, “He said his name is RYAN.” Then you hear a guy lean in an say, “Um, that’s Ryan Adams.”

Ryan is in excellent spirits, joking with Emmylou when she asks the crowd if they managed to keep his appearance a secret (“It was a secret to me!” Ryan says. “I’m glad I was eating across the street!”). Then they launch into one of the most stunning versions of “Oh My Sweet Carolina” that I’ve ever heard (the song they originally duetted on, on Heartbreaker). That is such a goddamn good song. I always forget how many times in a row I can listen to it — it’s a lot.

Dirty Rain (new)
New untitled #1
(his voice at 1:48 slays me)
New untitled #2
New untitled #3
Blue Hotel
Everybody Knows
Oh My Sweet Carolina (with Emmylou Harris)


Welcome back, Ryan.

These songs are enough to make me wish I was going to Europe this summer:

June 07 – Cork, Ireland Opera House
June 08 – Dublin, Ireland Olympia Theatre
June 10 – Stockholm, Sweden Cirkus
June 11 – Oslo, Norway Folketeatret
June 13 – Malmö, Sweden The Consert House
June 14 – Copenhagen, Denmark Koncerhauset
June 16 – Lisbon, Portugal Aula Magna
June 17 – Porto, Portugal Teatro Sa Da Bandeira
June 19 – London, UK Barbican
June 20 – London, UK Barbican
June 22 – Brighton, UK Dome
June 23 – Manchester, UK Bridgewater Hall
June 25 – Glasgow, UK Academy
June 26 – Oxford, UK Oxford New Theatre
June 28 – Amsterdam, Holland Concertgebouw

All ticket information available on PAX-AM.

April 12, 2011

New Ryan Adams: “Dirty Rain”

Some of my favorite Ryan Adams songs have always been those where he lets that soulful, bluesy wail go (see: “Hotel Chelsea Nights”). I miss that lately with the more jammy sound he’s been pursuing with The Cardinals, so I was thrilled when a blogger posted this new song he performed back in October at a benefit for Dave Eggers’ 826LA charity. I’ve made an mp3 and the sound quality is pretty dang decent.

Dirty Rain (partial) – Ryan Adams

As one of my fellow Ryan Adams nerds assessed on the alt-country.org boards, “There is more soulful singing in those 2 minutes then on all of Cardinology or III/IV combined.” Agreed, and grateful.

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February 15, 2011

sunset’s just my lightbulb burning out


I’ve long had loud, clattery, live cover versions of this song in my arsenal of cry-into-your-coffee music, but thankfully Adam Duritz sat himself down in a quiet room with his piano and a will last week to record a bunch of Valentine’s Day cover songs, and this was the fruit.

Oh My Sweet Carolina (Ryan Adams) – Adam Duritz

Other songs he posted for download last week included versions of material from Steve Earle, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan. God bless the internet and prolific musicians at home.

March 6, 2010

A View Of Other Windows: New Ryan Adams book

There is a new photography book detailing the touring and creative lives of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, captured by multi-talented band guitarist Neal Casal. It’s called A View Of Other Windows and I don’t have it yet, so can’t speak to the quality beyond what I’ve seen of Neal to know that he has a knack for capturing small moments, which I love.

I was, however, taken by the little b-side song “Memory Lane” used to soundtrack the trailer for the book. It was released on the special UK/Ireland versions of Cardinology, and perhaps selected here because of its line about “pictures taken by someone else…”

Memory Lane (UK bonus track) – Ryan Adams

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September 10, 2009

Ryan Adams resurrects record label, paints, requests worship (you jerk)


The rarely-resting Ryan Adams announced today that he was bringing his PAX AM (Pax Americana) label back to life, to release digital singles of his music one at a time. The label last spit out some fine 7″s in 2004, and will return tomorrow with a single of “Lost and Found” (originally on 2006′s Sad Dracula/Fasterpiece sessions) and a new song “Go Ahead And Rain” as the b-side.

Lost And Found (Sad Dracula demo version) – Ryan Adams

You can buy the cleaned-up version and new song for $1.49 on his site.

Ryan issued the following statement regarding the debut of the Pax Am label:

Thanks for making Pax Am the number one Ryan Adams merch site online. We would hunt anyone else down though.

Did you have a rad summer? Good. If you said no, never worry, Pax Am is here. We are gonna fill your fall and winter up with vinyl, digital singles, and t shirts you don’t need.

Stay tuned for videos, free tracks, and our digi-singles. Subscribers get first dibs on rare vinyl.

Remember, purchasing the buck 49 singles is a way to keep FOGGY TV on the air, but it is not necessary to view the weekly content.

This is my label and my internet disco dream.

Make it real you jerks.

Worship me.


He’s also going to have an exhibit later this month at the Morrison Hotel Gallery‘s Bowery space, debuting “a new collection of his original paintings and mixed media collages.” He’s also going to be the gallery’s first artist in residence. The man doesn’t sleep.

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May 21, 2009

I don’t wanna go out tonight … if you’re staying at home

The superb Belfast-meets-alt-country blend of Minnesota’s Romantica comes to Denver tonight at the Soiled Dove. After seeing them at SXSW, I highly recommend this impassioned show.

Here is an extra-gorgeous rendition of “The Dark,” by request, a few nights ago in Salt Lake City.

Remember when they sang that song with Ryan Adams? Remember how it’s one of my favorites?

May 21 – The Soiled Dove w/ Carrie Rodriguez, Denver, CO
May 22 – KTAO Solar Center w/ Carrie Rodriguez, Taos, NM
May 25 – North Music & Arts Festival, Kenosha, WI
Jun 6 – Olde Town Creamery, Maple Lake, MN
Jul 17 – RiverSong Folk Music Festival, Hutchinson, MN
Aug 8 – MN Zoo w/ Alejandro Escovedo, Apple Valley, MN

[video via]

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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