The story opens at Berkeley Cafe on West Martin Street. Ryan Adams, then a mostly unknown local singer-songwriter, made an big impression on David Menconi, as did "Kenneth from Nashville", a man who started a show-down with locals and the cops at the club. "Kenneth" derailed Menconi's interview with Adams that night, but the night serves as the springboard of Menconi's desire to follow Adams's career beyond Martin Street.
David Menconi, the music critic at the News and Observer and contributing editor for the former alt-country magazine No Depression, releases a new biographical account of Ryan Adams's Whiskeytown years in the Raleigh area with his new book Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown. The book is part of the American Music Series that Menconi and Peter Blackstock, a co-frounder of No Depression, have put together. Losering is the second in the series, following Dwight Yoakam, and more bios (including Merle Haggard, Los Lobos & Vic Chesnutt) are scheduled to be released soon.
Menconi followed Whiskeytown closely during its rise in the local clubs of Raleigh, even callling himself "something like Whiskeytown's unofficial propogandist". He digs through Adams's North Carolina and Raleigh connections, as well as attempting to figure out who Ryan Adams really is as a musician and a personality.
The infamous attitude that Adams has now started early and is evident in Losering. With his head down, Adams moved from Whiskeytown to a solo career very quickly. He seemingly knew where he wanted to go and fumbled his way there, SNL and Letterman apperances included.
Menconi argues that Whiskeytown's Strangers Almanac is the best album of any of the alum's catalogs, echoing The Byrds's Sweetheart of the Rodeo or other alt-country albums that hit the shelves many years before Strangers. But like the argument with David Rawlings about Morrissey that opens Adams's debut solo album, Heartbreaker, we could all argue about our favorite Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams, or other album's album. My preference would be Heartbreaker, although I was introduced to it and Strangers Almanac almost simultaneously, so I, unfairly, see them as a collection.
Raleigh still seen signs of the Whiskeytown legacy on the streets and in the clubs. We could contribute much of the love of alt-country in our area to Ryan's presence at Berkeley and the other dark and dingy venues of the time. As well, Caitlin Cary has contributed greatly to the local music scene since Whiskeytown with her bands Tres Chicas, The Small Ponds (with former Whiskeytown drummer Skillet Gilmore and solo gigs as well. I'd give Whiskeytown as a band, Cary included, as much credit on our local scene as Adams gets on the national alt-country scene. Surely, there's a sequel text in there on how Raleigh post-Whiskeytown.
One of my favorite parts of the book are the last few pages where Menconi jots down his thoughts and simple descriptions of each one of Adams' Selected Discography from the hardcore of 1991's Blank Label to the almost quietness of 2011's Ashes & Fire. In the Discography, Menconi does fail to mention all of Adams' dabling in the electonic rap music (DJ REGGIE!), probably because it was all on the web and not a proper album release. Ahhhhh Shit, Look Who Got a Website. Adams' "online rap album" was as far away from his Whiskeytown roots as possible. Maybe we should reopen that argument about the best Whiskeytown alum album. I wonder what David Rawlings would have to say? Let's get Metaphysical maybe?
The book is available now online and at a handful of local bookstores and all of the big chains. Readings of Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown, will start this week and continue over the next week or so. The first will be this Thursday, September 27th at Quail Ridge; followed by 9/28 at Flyleaf/Chapel Hill and 10/4 at Regulator/Durham.
David Menconi was also on WUNC's The State of Things on Tuesday, September 25th talking to Frank Stacio about Losering. You can listen over at the archives here.