Strangers Almanac (Outpost Recordings ’97) Rating: B+
The emergence of Ryan Adams as a rising star after two critically acclaimed solo albums (Heartbreaker, 2000; Gold, 2001) had me curious about his old band Whiskeytown. So I decided to check out Strangers Almanac, which many fans regard as his former band’s best work. After all, when this album was released it also gained a fair amount of praise, and it is a consistently strong 13 song set. That said, as is often the case with many highly touted albums, I was disappointed in this one at first. The band reminded me of The Replacements and Uncle Tupelo (and their offshoots), but I felt that their sound lacked the distinctiveness of those bands, while Ryan’s voice didn’t quite have the character of either Westerberg or Farrar/Tweedy. However, it’s now several listens later and I’ve grown increasingly impressed. After all, the band’s honest sincerity always shines through, and Adams' (then only a mere 22 years old) alcohol drenched tales of love lost likewise hold up to close scrutiny. The other four band members add the alt.country instrumentation (fiddle, pedal steel, and piano), and the band are effective at both rocking (“Yesterday’s News,” “Waiting To Derail”) and relaxed (“Houses On The Hill,” “Dancing With The Woman At The Bar”) material. Other standout tracks include “Exclude Me While I Break My Own Heart” (featuring Alejandro Escovedo) and the intense “Turn Around,” while the band’s harmonies highlight the singable “16 Days” and the somber “Not Home Anymore.” “Avenues” shows that that simplicity is sometimes best, while “Everything I Do” showed the other Adams (Bryan) how to sing (and write) a lonesome ballad. The album still isn’t especially distinctive or exciting, but give it time and it’ll probably grow on you like it’s grown on me.

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