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Whiskeytown – ‘Strangers Almanac’ Deluxe Edition Review

There’s been a real rash of these ‘deluxe’ editions recently. The more cynical amongst us may wonder if this is due to the downturn in sales of new CD’s. After all, these lavish packages are aimed at people who already own the album and will be willing to shell out another £15 for a few extra tracks and a storybook insert detailing the genesis of the music. Collectors and completeists in other words, and it’s so easy to bang out a new copy of an album that the label has already released once before.

But judging this album on music alone, you really should buy it if you don’t already own it. Whiskeytown’s magnificent 1997 debut deservedly stands aside Uncle Tupelo’s debut and Wilco’s ‘Summerteeth’ as one of the most influential works in the alt.country cannon. Ryan Adams songwriting throughout is simply matchless, backed by a band at the top of their game. Looking back, it is surprising it took Adams another four years to move into mainstream consciousness with ‘Gold’. Quite honestly, for a 22 year old to write songs with such stunning emotional depth and resonance beggars belief. Some would say he’s never been as good as this again. I’d hold up his solo debut as ‘Heartbreaker’ as proof he has – but it’s a close thing.

Kicking off with the haunting acoustic country of ‘Inn Town’, the records great strength is his versatility. ‘Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart’ is a gorgeous sasparilla stomp, while ‘Yesterday’s News’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘Pleased to Meet Me’ by the Replacements. ’16 Days’ is a sanguine country-soul number which would make a great cover for any aspiring soul diva. ‘Dancing With the Woman at the Bar’ is as good as it’s title, and ‘Not Home Anymore’ is fitting closer. But the albums centrepiece is the astonishing ‘Houses on the Hill’, a dust-and-dirt ballad with incredibly touching lyrics covering romance, war, mortality and loss in two-and-a-half exceptional minutes. If Adams had never written another song he would have left a strong case to be considered a genius with this number. That it became a staple of country-covers bands is a testament to the songs timeless and universal appeal.

Simply put, it’s a devestatingly good album, which, fine wine-style, has got better with time.

As for the extras…well, I know I always say this, but they are a disapointment. A few reasons, the overriding and always pertinent main one being that, as usual, the unreleased songs were unrelaesed for a very good reason. There are the songs from the infamous Baseball Park Sessions, but these are mere sketches of what would go on to make the bones of the album proper. And, even more infuriatingly, they have already been released as bonus tracks on an earlier issue of Whiskeytown’s second album ‘Faithless Street’.

So, if you own this already, I wouldn’t bother. If you don’t, I cannot recommend an album more strongly. Just ask yourself one question – Are you ready to be heartbroken? If so, you’ll never find heartache more appealing.


2 Responses

  1. isnt ryan adams that giy that had the song about robin hood

  2. I dont like “deluxe” editions,not one bit.They are the aural equivalent of artists( or their record companies) sifting through their own shit to look for some thing they can once more feed on.
    That said I still buy the occasional one from people I really like, usually out of an interest in their “process” or more left-field ideas that just wouldnt fit with the rest of the songs on a given album.
    I suppose my real criticism of these albums is that companies have the bare-faced cynisism to charge the full whack for them when the recording costs/studio time/tour to support album etc,etc have already been done first time around.
    Kerr-Ching !, over and out.

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