Here comes a riveting 39-song, 2-disc set bound to make Whiskeytown/Ryan Adams fans wet their pants. The pinnacle recording of the alt. country-era, Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac, is now a decade old, and the label is giving it the deserved deluxe treatment.
If you missed this one the first go-round, the bonus disc and songs tacked on at the end of disc one are a good reason to indulge in this version—rather than the original—aside from the fact that it’s a really, really great album. Tracks 14-18 on disc one are alternate studio and radio performances from September 1997, all previously unreleased. Disc two has a load of alternate and acoustic versions of the album’s original tracks, in addition to non-album tracks and soundtrack songs, most notably “Wither I’m a Flower” (Hope Floats) and “Theme for a Trucker” (The End of Violence). If that’s not enough, there are a handful of songs from the “Barn’s on Fire” sessions, also previously unreleased. Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and Gram Parsons’ “Luxury Liner” are a couple standouts that pass the viable cover tune litmus test.
The extensive liner notes are not to be missed. Co-editor of No Depression magazine (an early champion of the band), Peter Blackstock—in an interview with Strangers Almanac producer Jim Scott—captures Adams’ rambling impulses and wayward prolificacy in regard to his songwriting: “Every song he writes is way better that the one he just wrote five minutes ago,” he says. Adams saw Scott as someone who played the producer card with focus and knowing: “He really makes you think about the motion of the song, the rhythms, the internal rhythms, the melody, the vocal performance,” Adams told Blackstock for the May ’97 issue of No Depression. “He wanted to make something flow. He wanted to make our record work, whereas we wanted our record to get damaged. So that damage and that work combined.”
One song that didn’t make the cut that would’ve been a nice addition is Whiskeytown’s version of Tom T. Hall’s “I Hope It Rains at My Funeral,” found on the 1998 tribute album (Real: The Tom T. Hall Project). It’s tough to track a copy of this one down these days, so I wonder why it didn’t make the grade for the “miscellaneous tracks.” Nonetheless, there’s quite enough meat here to keep you busy.
There’s not much else I could tell you about the album itself that hasn’t already been written about ten-fold, but essentially, Strangers Almanac showcases a major songwriting talent (Adams) in his early years, a seminal album, and a band that’s been sorely missed since it disbanded. Both fans and newbies will be pleased with this release.