Waxed: Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago

I was a little late to the Bon Iver party. While everyone was raving and ranting, I was busy listening to other things. When For Emma, Forever Ago began appearing on the "best of the year" lists for 2008, I started to take notice. When Daytrotter trotted out an excellent few recordings, and a very interesting and enjoyable article to boot, I decided it was time to listen.

Unfortunately, I shared an office with someone who's musical tastes didn't exactly mirror mine. And since Bon Iver were not American Idol finalists, the first strains of the Daytrotter session that I began playing one day were met with fierce disapproval. Rather than try to listen through the haze of discontented slurs, shouts, and verbal dismissals, I bowed out. And then I went down to my local record store (I love you, LUNA!) and bought For Emma, Forever Ago. If this many people loved it... well, it didn't have to be good. The people are sometimes very, very wrong (I am looking at you, Rolling Stone magazine, and you, American Idol viewers and listeners).

But sometimes, the masses are right. Granted, most of the "masses" that I was listening to for recommendations are places like Heather and her Fuel for Friends blog, and Aquarium Drunkard, and of course Daytrotter. These are valued and reputable sources for good music, at least so aligned with my tastes. And in this case, my trusty sources lead me not astray. Bon Iver is the real deal, and For Emma, Forever Ago is by far one of the best releases of 2008.

My first listen, in my car, left me intrigued. Not yet impressed or excited, but very intrigued. It wasn't until I got home, put the record on a shelf, and returned to it. It might have been a cold, rainy day, and if it wasn't, it should've been. When I put the disc in my home stereo and hit play, that was when the record grabbed me. It hasn't let go since.

When that first rising crest of harmonized vocals in "The Wolves" hit, I was hooked. From the opening strums of "Flume" to the acoustic guitar fading out on album closer "Re: Stacks," For Emma, Forever Ago is a classic album. The album cover, with its wintery, dirty window look, is a perfect picture of what's inside, of the haunting melodies and found sounds and gentle acoustic strums that will soon grace your ears. Hipsters might call this Indie-Folk. I just call it great.

"Flume" begins the record with that gentle acoustic, along with slight keyboard flourishes and a strange, warbling sound that sounds like a stringed instrument being manipulated with a magnet. And of course, that voice, familiar and haunting, quiet and whispery and passionate. All manner of aural treats make this record a pleasure to listen to, be it buzzing strings or gorgeous and fresh-sounding vocal harmonies. It is a very organic record.

There are many twists and turns throughout the album, like the buzzing instrumental break in "Flume" or the lilting voices and volume swells in "Lump Sum." It's full of organic sounds. It is a folk record through and through, but something more new than old. It borrows from the rich folk lineage of American song, but not the songs themselves, as is so common with folk releases. Here are new tales of love and the cold and the Midwest. "And I told you to be patient, and I told you to be fine, and I told you to be balanced, and I told you to be kind," sings Justin Vernon (who is Bon Iver de facto) in "Skinny Love." "Who will love you, who will fight?" Is he singing to a lover who jilted him, or is he singing to himself? Doesn't matter, because it is affecting and effective either way.

I wish I could highlight a favorite track for you, dear readers, but I can't. I can't because every track seems to be my favorite - I feel like a kid in an aural candy store. Or an addict, and Bon Iver is my dealer of sweet nothings and electric highs. I wonder along with Mr. Vernon as he sings "What might have been lost?"

Who knows, really. All I know is that I am glad Justin Vernon retreated to cabin in Wisconsin to write and record this gritty collection of songs. Bon Iver - a mispelling in French of the term "good winter" - weaves tale after tale, in dulcet and majestic acoustic tones. The hushed vocals of "Blindsided" make is sound as if we're hearing a fairy tale, just one on one, in a room with the storyteller. The soft drums, chirping guitar, and drifting vocals are deceptive in "Creature Fear," as the chorus explodes (for this record, anyway) in a swell of chugging guitars and driving snare. There's even a hint of fuzzy electric guitar and bass in there to drive things along as the song segues into the track "Team."

For Emma, Forever Ago stays mostly quiet and reserved, it's nine songs much like a journey, like a walk outside to clear your head on a cool and crisp winter day, the cold biting at the tip of your nose, but your thoughts warm and comforting in your head. Other times, the music sounds like the perfect companion to brandy and a fireplace. Even when, in "For Emma," Justin sings "go find another lover to bring up, to string along," there's a warmth and joy built into the music. The horns accompanying "For Emma" remind me a little of "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel, and the comparison isn't a bad one - if you like Neutral Milk Hotel, you'll find some common ground here as well.

"Re: Stacks" might be one of the most straightforward songs on the album, but is also one of the best, a strong, vibrant piece of songwriting that breathes with energy and emotion, even as it is relaxed and reserved. It pleasantly reminds me of walking down cold Columbus, Ohio streets in winter, hand in hand with my lover, watching the world unfurl around us.

And I could say that for the whole record - it's like a cold walk with a loved on, or a warm fireplace by yourself, wondering why you are alone but not really worried how. It is a record of reflection and remembering. It is also a record worth owning, and listening to, over and over. After listening to it almost every day for the past two weeks, and a bit before that, too, I can tell you it's a record that reveals itself slowly, and only gets better the more your listen to it.

This isn't a record for your winter (or summer) of discontent. It's a warm, soulful record for walks and drives, for rainy days at home, for your own reflection. See yourself in For Emma, Forever Ago, and go and see the world through the eyes of a dirty, wintery window. It's about life and living it, and this makes for part of an excellent soundtrack to that great journey.


Waxed: Jason Isbell's Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

The first time I listened to Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, the newest release from ex-Drive-By Truckers guitarist/singer/songwriter Jason Isbell, I have to admit, I wasn't all that impressed. At first listen, I thought his latest record lacked the fire of his first solo release, 2007's Sirens In The Ditch. But headphones don't lie. It wasn't until I gave the record another chance, sitting at my desk at work with my headphones on, that the beauty, power, and stunning grace of the record readily became apparent. Songs like "Sunstroke" and "Cigarettes and Wine" are slow simmers, songs you need to be immersed in for them to take hold. Much like the south where Isbell hails from.

I don't want to saddle Isbell with the same agenda that Trucker's captain Patterson Hood seems to push - the whole "dichotomy of the southern thing" deal, which is charming and lends his songs a kind of launching point for understanding. Isbell doesn't seem to be making such a claim or even functioning from trying to explain how or why the south works. Rather, he just seems to be writing about what he sees, where he lives, what those people do. It's not clear how much of the characters on Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit are from Jason Isbell's own life, and how many have just been observed or created, but they all feel real. Which makes the record feel real, dirty and gritty.

The album also rocks harder, but in a more subtle way. "However Long," "Good," and "Soldiers Get Strange" all have a fiery burn. This isn't Truckers-style stomp, but a more relaxed, bluesier sound. I recall when the record first came out, the first review I read of it was on the Onion's A.V. Club, where the folks who comment get a little rowdy, there's a thousand trolls, and most people either act like hipsters or make fun of acting like hipsters. The greatest stone thrown at the new record was that it wasn't as good as the DBT's, or as good as Isbell's first record, or wasn't alt-country enough. Someone compared Isbell to Ryan Adams, but only to say we already had one Ryan Adams, and he's a better songwriter, and this kind of music wasn't good enough to need competitors. And they all seemed to lack the clarity of thought that might had come with time - with giving a record time.

Sometimes I review new records a month or more after their release. Sometimes it's much more than that. Some records take longer to get comfortable with. And, to me, that's an accomplishment by artist, to make an album that isn't just an immediate pay off, but one that grows on you and has a life of its own. Some records are about impact - but Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit is a sleeper. Isbell's new record is also a keeper.

Isbell chooses to end the record with "The Last Song I Will Write," a slow burning ballad with some nice guitar work and some lingering, floating instruments in the solo break, and Isbell's typical everyman lyrical understanding. It's as good as some of the great songs he wrote while in the Drive-By Truckers. And it's great in its own right, too. A perfect closer, it manages to capture the entire feel of the album, as well as Isbell's career so far, and looks to the promise of more to come (or so we hope - I certainly hope it isn't the last song he will write, nor think that it should be). The warmth and fire of the whole record is brought home by the song's coda, ringing out with crashing cymbals and warm, earthy guitars and organ.

Much like Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's tales of lovers wronged, work to be done, and everyday people, Isbell has a long way yet to go to establish himself as a premier songwriter and performer in today's musical climate. Thankfully, though, with records like this one, it'll be more of a matter of getting heard, rather than creating great material. Because albums like this one are keepers.

Now if the tour would only stop in Indiana...


Waxed: Bob Mould's Life and Times

The first time I heard "I'm Sorry, Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Anymore," I knew I was going to buy the new Bob Mould album Life and Times the day it came out. The moment I put it in the cd player, and "Life and Times," the title track and first song on the record, started up, I knew the record has great. I let the album spin, getting a first taste, a first impression. Little bits kept catching my attention - a sharp lyric here, a trademark guitar lick there, that unmistakeable voice, now even more mature and wise, and those unspeakably wonderful guitar tones, acoustic and electric.

From the first percussive snaps of acoustic guitar in "Life and Times," are just a precursor to the emotional fury that is coming, both in the first song and the whole album. "You're taking me back to the places I've left behind," Mould sings, "the old life and times." By now, Mould has mastered taking on old, festering romantic wound and turning it into expert pop songcraft. "Life and Times" kicks of this album with a bang.

"I know Superman couldn't stop the rain from find it's way in," Bob sings on "The Breach," and the hits just keep on coming. If you are looking for a mature album dealing with loss and heartbreak, you'd be hard pressed to find a better new release than Life and Times.

The album seems to borrow on all of Bob's career post-Husker Du. The acoustic songcraft of Workbook, the charged up electric alternative rock of Sugar, and the electronic sounds of Modulate and parts of his more recent records are all here. "City Lights (Days Go By)" benefits with the swirling keyboard accents that color the chorus. In fact, the song is a beautiful amalgamation of the best of Mould's talents. "City Lights" even contains a bit of the buried vocals we've come to know and love from Mould's best work, but so much as they were in the past.

The album benefits from a quick pace that keeps it surging forward, picking up steam as it goes. "MM 17" keeps things up, but "Argos" sounds like a lost Sugar gem, and has some of the Husker Du energy. It's pure pop-punk ecstacy, and at 2:03, it's the shortest song on the album. You're going to want to repeat it several times - it's that good.

"Bad Blood Better" begins with electronic string swells before quickly switching into acoustic ballad mode. "You deny that there's a problem," Bob sings, "you left your hand print on my face." The message gets through - when this is all the love you've got, "bad's blood better than no blood at all." The emotions Mould wrings from his old soul, and mature voice, makes this song hit you everywhere - the head, the heart, the gut, the groin. When you're hoping to God you die happy... it's as real and as personal as it gets. The Bob let's us in this close is astonishing, daring, and brilliant. He tops off the song with an energetic, angry blast of a guitar solo.

Life and Times really sounds like a mature, full, and important work - a statement. The type of things a younger or less experienced songwriter might be embarrassed to say, Mould shouts and whispers, out front and in your face. As dark as the record is - and it is, it is hard and dark and cold and rough like hate-sex - it's still punctuated by Mould's own very survival. The fact that he lives these cataclysmic heartbreaks, and keeps walking upright and proud (at least, after awhile...), this is where the hope and positive energy is in this record. Trust me, as off as that might sound, that Mould has survived to keep writing these diary entry and sniper shot songs makes you swell with pride. The two-punch blast of "Wasted World" and "Spiraling Down" reinforce this notion - the musical peaks and valleys of the record not only keep it moving along, but keeps it interesting from a storytelling standpoint, too.

By the time you get to "I'm Sorry, Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Anymore," you're ready to admit all your failed love affairs, too. The internal reflection Bob brings to light in this song is staggering - it's an anthem for any lover, any where, who's ever been sad, broken, jilted, left behind, or moving on... just about anyone who isn't at this moment in a perfect relationship can relate. And those of us wistful individuals who like to hold on to our paths, it's a siren song call-to-arms. "Why I always find the broken ones, what does this say about me?" - he cuts to the bone. "I tried to heal you, I tried to fix you, I tried to show you compassion... I tried to listen, I tried to love you even though you were broken." It might be the most honest song of his career, a lifetime full of honest, heart-wrenching songs.

The record comes full circle with the closing track, "Lifetime." It is the longest and most electronic-sounding song on the album, but creates a unique atmosphere with it's fuzzy keyboard swells and xylophone pings. It's another brave step forward for an artist who never shies from taking chances with his art. The whole album builds to this moment - a lifetime of heartache, heartbreak, loneliness... and trying again, starting over, and moving on.

The last impression after several listens to Bob Mould's Life and Times is that is more than just a mature work by a mature artist. It's more like a cross section of an artist's tortured soul. There is nothing here to pity, nothing here to raise up emotionally - it's a factual statement. This is what love can do to you - it's part and parcel of throwing yourself out there to see what happens. The matter-of-fact nature of the lyrics and Mould's delivery and sincerity make it a joy and pleasure to not only listen to, but recollect and reflect with, too. Musically, it's one of Mould's strongest efforts - it sounds unrushed and comfortable while sounding fresh and energetic. If this record isn't proof that Mould isn't one of the greatest songwriters walking the earth, I don't know what is.

Do yourself a favor, buy it. Burn a copy for your car and for work. Just in case. Keep it for those trying, emotional days. Turn it up, way fucking loud, and revel in the fact that there's another soul out there like you who wants love, doesn't understand it, and keeps fighting for it tooth and nail. And when times are good, know you'll always have a friend waiting if they crash, a friend called Life and Times.


I'm Sorry Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Anymore - The Genius of Bob Mould

What makes a songwriter so good? What bit of their personality and their life experience makes their particularl brand of songcraft go beyond good to brilliant?

Rarely if ever do I consider my influences. Most of the time, it is much easier - and truthfully to the point - to just say I am influenced by any and all music I hear. After all, if I hate a song, I am not likely to copy it or borrow from it, and if I do, I'll be changing it in a way that allows me to not hate the part I steal. But, rarely do I discuss in depth some real influence, whether apparent or not, that reaches beyond just words and fingers on a fretboard, and mixes with the soul.

Nick Hornby, in the beginning of his collection of essay entitled Songbook, begins describing a way of discussing music that transcends and is apart from emotion (or so it seems - I haven't finished the book). In a way, Hornby seems to suggest that the best music is not temporal - it exists as an expertly crafted tune aside from and without our personal experience and memories attached to it. He even goes so far as to say that people who only like a song for its way of helping them recall a particular memory or moment or feeling, don't truly like music at all. They just like to be reminded of that moment.

I like Hornby the writer, but for the most part think that the last part of that statement, that people who like a song for emotional or temporal reasons don't really like music, is dead wrong, stupid, prickish, elitist and pompous (which describes most of the way people think about me and my music elitism, by the way). I think songs can be great because of our emotions and connections to memories. And yes, maybe that makes writing about them more memoir than discussion of what a collection of aural instances combine to make one excellent-no-matter-how-I-feel almight fuck of a rock song (or blues, jazz, whatever). But we need emotion, and music is one of the best forms of communicating human emotion and humanity itself - love, loss, and so on.

It struck me today as I listened to Workbook, The Last Dog and Pony Show, and Besides - all albums by Bob Mould or one of his groups (in this case, Sugar) - that Bob Mould is a huge influence on me and my music. My next thought was of Hornby's book, though, and what my emotional connection to Bob Mould's music was. And I realized that one of the points that Hornby makes was spot on - music is truly great when it transcends our emotions and temporal connections to it, and becomes great to us all the time. And that is when I realized: Bob Mould is a fucking fantastic songwriter, all broken bones and stomped on hearts and rage and fury. But for me, despite how much I really relate to his music, his music is timeless, not temporal. And I now realize how big of an influence on my songwriting he truly is, and how great his music really is, on a scale that can't be measured by how I feel or felt when I listen/listened to it for the first/current time.

Let me explain another way: Pearl Jam is my favorite band of all time. I have made this statement a half a dozen million times. And, frankly, it might still be true. But it might not be, either. Because, for some of Peal Jam's music, it just doesn't do anything for me anymore. Ten sounds dated to me now - I still love it, but it is attached to my memories of a time and place. Vitalogy, on the other hand, is a remarkable album that has stuck with me. Yes, it is a hard album, and I find it uplifting because its sound of struggle. I do have memories wrapped around the first time I heard it, my discussions with friends about it, and so on and so forth... but those aren't the first things that come to my mind when I hear those songs. My first thought is to turn it up. Loud.

The same can be said for No Code and Pearl Jam's self-titled record (or, if you will, "Avacado"). Or Son Volt's Trace, or "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin, or "Castles Made of Sand" by Hendrix. Some Beatles songs remind me of my ex-fiance. Some remind me of their greatness and nothing else. (quite a few make me miss Lennon.)

I discovered Bob Mould via The Last Dog and Pony Show (LDPS from here on in), sitting in the "Top Shelf" rack at WIUS AM 1570 Student Radio at the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. There it was, mixed in with so much thoughtless music - sugary pop, avant noise rock, the latest indie darlings. Don't get me wrong, some of that "top shelf" was really good. I met a lot of bands there that I still have a love affair with today. I also met a lot of bands that I would've revoked their right to make "music" right then and there. Anyway... there it was. The Last Dog and Pony Show. Supposedly the last big, loud Bob Mould album. I didn't even know who this guy was. But I found out, and right quick, too. It wasn't long before Beaster by Sugar was in constant rotation on my radio show, and other treats by Mould, Sugar, and Husker Du.

Beaster and LDPS enchanted me. I loved the songs, loved the guitar sound - God, that guitar sound! - loved the open nature of the lyrics. It was emotional, visceral, real. Real human pain, real human triumph, real human glory, real human struggle. And I soaked it all in. The sad thing was, like most records I love, these weaved their way in and out of my life. I loved it when I remembered them... but my constant diet of new music left me putting them back on my shelf, usually only to be retrieved whenever I might hear a tune on the radio or hear about a new release.

As time has moved on, though, my record collection has grown, and I've added to it some important Bob Mould albums. Copper Blue, Workbook, Besides, and File Under: Easy Listening are all there to be listened to in my collection. I've been searching out Husker Du records, trying to find ones that aren't listed at $18.99 or $19.99 (this is hard to do, by the way - apparently wanting to listen to older music from Minneapolis has it's price - The Replacements' records seem to have this problem, as well. No word as of yet on old Soul Asylum.). Bob Mould's new solo record, Life and Times, is pre-ordered and should hit my doorstep sometime this week.

But it was Nick Hornby's opening essay in Songbook, and the first single off of Life and Times, "I'm Sorry Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Anymore," that really made me reconsider Bob Mould and his music in a different light. As in, not just enjoyable pop music, or genre-changing cornerstones, or part-inventor of alternative rock. But as an influence, as a major influence, and as music that has stayed relevant and important since the day I heard it. And I can't deny it anymore. There is no emotional involvement for me with this music. As emotional and soul-baring as it is, I've never made that personal connection. BUT, despite that - maybe even because of it - this is one of my favorite songwriters of all time. Bob Mould is a major influence, a fantastic songwriter, a musical icon and more. His songs do hit home, and hit home hard. It's just that I've never really used his music to "get through" anything. It's too good for that. It's too good to just borrow to deal with pain or swoon with love, and then discard once I've internalized or moved on from whatever situation merited the need for some serious emotional ass-kicking. "Moving Trucks" could have been the greatest song for moving my ex-girlfriend out (or for her, as she was moving out). But it wasn't, because it was too good for that.

There are happier songwriters, better singers, more technically gifted guitarists. Still, the stew that Mould has cooked up for us as listeners time and time again is superior than so much music out there.

I'm not sure what makes it a cut above the rest, exactly. Maybe all things that are transcendent are that way - that's why they transcend, because we can't describe why, or how, or what. They're just great. And Bob Mould is just great. In whatever moment you find yourself in - personal or otherwise.


Waxed: Whiskeytown's Stranger's Almanac

From the opening notes - hell, from the first little hammer-on - of "Inn Town," you just know something special has arrived. Let's not even get into the fiddle strains and sparse guitar. For God's sakes, we've got a classic on our hands before the little shit even starts singing...

That's bound to be your reaction to Stranger's Almanac if you have any good music sense at all. Whiskeytown released this classic alternative country album on the world in 1997, and if you haven't heard it yet, you don't know what you're missing. There is just something, some sound that Ryan Adams, Caitlin Cary, and Phil Wandscher make together, that is priceless, timeless and perfect. Here the trio of singers/songwriters/musicians do their best to break your own heart tonight, and I'll be damned if they don't do it on every song.

Starting with the instant classic "Inn Town" is a good way to start. The aforementioned beginning doesn't even speak to how incredible this song is - musically, lyrically, totally. How could a kid, a young punk like Ryan Adams was at the time, write a song this good? "Parking lot, movie screen/ I can't feel anything/ Cigarette, beat up t.v./I can't feel anything," he sings, and you feel it. THEN the harmony vocals kick in, and suddenly you're a Whiskeytown fan... for life. If you can find a better tale of broken, lonely small town life, I'd be impressed. But you won't. "I can't say anything without dreaming," Adams casually tosses out, before returning to that perfect harmony chorus - "Now that I'm Inn Town."

It get's better. "Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight" is so much more than a broken down country song, and that's before you find out it's a duet with ace Texas singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo. Not to mention the incredible steel guitar playing - Adams, Cary, and Wandscher benefitted greatly from the cast of studio musicians that helped record the album, in between bands as the trio that was the backbone of Whiskeytown was. And with lines like, "Well excuse me if I break my own heart tonight/ some things are born too strong, they have to learn how to fight/ the situation keeps me drinking every goddamn day and night," there's a deep maturity to the heartbroken hard country of the song.

It is a shame that most of us didn't catch on to Whiskeytown and their cache of excellent albums until after the band dissolved and Adams went on to do his solo career. Songs like "Yesterday's News," pure Stones-y rock from Wandscher mixed with Adams' pure songteller sensibilities explode with both energy and innocence that frankly is missing from the latter's solo work, at least in such staggering quantity and quality as is found on Whiskeytown's brief, precious output.

"Got sixteen days/ fifteen of those nights/can't sleep when the bedsheet fights/ it's way back to your side," Adams sings on "16 Days." Somehow, the three culprits of this criminally excellent music managed to mix their superb musicianship and warm vocal harmonies around this boy-wonder's songs that are far too good, and far too lived-in, for his age. "Well your ghost has got me runnin' away from you." The album maintains it's strong start right through "Everything I Do," a forlorn lover's tale and an expert mixture of country ballad and soulful rocker. In fact, the way Whiskeytown mixes several genres of music can't be overstated. In some ways, they are as much a Rosetta Stone for the alternative country genre/culture as Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks. And just as deserving of praise.

"Houses on the Hill" is somber and sweet and tired and aching, the three singers voices intertwining in just the right places. It's the sound Ryan would mine almost exclusively for his first so album Heartbreaker, but instead of the intensely personal, this song is a story about somebody else's life, and that what makes it so sad and relatable. We've all known a broken widow, a woman left without because of some other man's war. "Turn Around" starts out gentle enough before churning into a raging storm of a rocker. It's also as good a place as any to sit back and just enjoy guitarist Phil Wandscher's excellent guitar playing, as well as the myriad tones he strangles out of his instrument throughout the record. His playing takes a simple folk song and makes it something extraordinary. Adams hasn't had a sideman or co-contributor as gifted as Wandscher since Whiskeytown, and that's evident here.

"Dancing with the Women at the Bar" is another song Adams should be too young to write, but he does it anyway. He's proven himself an expert at capturing human emotion at it's gritty best and worst, and this song is no exception. Not to be overlooked, either, is Caitlin Cary's solid contribution. I'm waiting for the day that Adams and Cary cut a record together, supporting each other and meeting on common ground. I might be waiting a while, but if it happens, the flashes of brilliance on this record proves it'll be worth the wait.

Stranger's Almanac continues its excellent song cycle on "Waiting to Derail," and open, cascading tune, reminiscent of U2 without being derivative. While Adams solo work frequently gets compared to other artists and he is sometimes called a copycat, it's hard to saddle Whiskeytown with such a claim - they manage to make their songs sound uniquely like Whiskeytown, whether because of the myriad of styles they've mastered or the unique gifts, tones, and sounds each of the three primary members contributes.

Adams refered to "Avenues" as "everyone's favorite Whiskeytown song" in an interview in No Depression magazine, and it's no slouch of a song, for sure. It's sweet and self-assured, a soft tune full of warmth and a bit of innocence that Adams could still convincingly deliver, and contains his trademark haphazard bad language that litters his later work. But "Losering" is the tune I return to time and time again. Whether because of the off-kilter nature of the song, or the harmony vocals, or just the strange way it builds, trickling at first and never becoming a full raging river, it's a favorite. Maybe it's Cary's violin playing, which I can never seem to get enough of. Maybe it's just because there's no such word as "losering." No matter, it sets a great mood for the end of the album, beginning the bookend to an excellent statement by a young, up and coming band.

"Somebody Remembers the Rose" returns to the slow, melodic country-rock burn this band does so well early on, hooky and full of ear candy without overpowering the affecting, simple tune. The atmospheric strains that kick of "Not Home Anymore," the albums closing track, borrow from the eerie mood of "Losering" in a familiar way, and the song wraps up everything great about Stranger's Almanac - the expert violin touches, the tasteful guitar tones and elegant playing, the harmonies to die for, and the finely crafted touches of the studio musicians who helped round out the lineup for the recording of the album. It's not the surefire hit that some of the other songs would be in a perfect world, but it's a competent and fitting album closer, more like an accessory to a great gift than the gift itself. It does speak to some of Ryan's later work, especially the low key moody rock he would explore fully on Love is Hell.

It's rumored that the band recorded over 30 songs for Stranger's Almanac, and I have to wonder, what haven't we heard? What would we have heard had this great band survived to record not one more, but half a dozen more albums? Would the talents and contributions of Cary and Wandscher have been enough to temper the mad genius of Adams, into making more concentrated, fleshed-out and complete songs as are evident here? Looks like we'll never know. But for what it is worth, Stranger's Almanac is one hell of an album, for Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams, alt-country, and/or otherwise. Give it a spin and welcome yourself to a whole world of deep, passionate music you might be missing. You won't regret it.