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Strangers Almanac (Deluxe Edition)

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Album Review

When an album is good but a bit overlong, can you improve it by expanding it to roughly three times its original length? That's the curious gambit behind Geffen's "Deluxe Edition" of Whiskeytown's 1997 major-label debut, Strangers Almanac; while the original release of the album clocked in at a bit under 52 minutes, this reissue has been expanded into a two-disc set that's nearly 148 minutes long. Strangers Almanac caught Whiskeytown in an awkward moment in their history; while they'd gained a far higher profile as a new major-label act and were pegged as rising stars, tensions within the band were already starting to fracture the lineup, and Ryan Adams, Phil Wandscher, and Caitlin Cary had to replace their rhythm section a mere two weeks before they began recording, with session musicians filling out the lineup. While Strangers Almanac's fallow stretches hamper its pacing, the best material ranks alongside Whiskeytown's finest moments, and the album sounds powerfully cohesive, with a real chemistry between Adams, Cary, and Wandscher that was absent from the group's posthumous swan song Pneumonia. However, this new version of the LP seems to reflect one of the guiding credos of Adams' solo career, namely that Quantity Is Quality. Disc one of the Deluxe Strangers Almanac features the original 13-song album along with a five-song radio broadcast from the fall of 1997, with the band meandering through a sloppy live set that does feature two otherwise unreleased songs and a few inspired moments, but sounds as if Adams had awakened from a deep sleep two minutes before air time. Disc two features two rare tunes that popped up on film soundtracks ("Wither, I'm a Flower" from Hope Floats and "Theme for a Trucker" from The End of Violence) along with 19 alternate takes and demos that have circulated among fans under the title "The Barn's on Fire." Most of the disc two material is the sort of stuff that gets bootlegged but not given an authorized release for a reason — they're covers and alternate versions (usually acoustic) that obsessive fans will dote on, but few if any objective listeners would peg as being as interesting as the group's authorized recordings. Sadly, this adequate but hardly compelling music has been included when some more interesting stuff didn't make the cut — the four-track promo EP In Your Wildest Dreams (where "Wither I'm a Flower" made its first appearance), and several compilation appearances and single sides (especially the group's potent version on Moon Mullican's "Bottom of the Glass" on the Bloodshot collection Straight Outta Boone County). Ultimately, this edition tends to dilute Strangers Almanac's strengths rather than reinforcing them, which is a shame, as its one of the best and least acknowledged albums in Ryan Adams' pantheon.


Formed: 1994 in Raleigh, NC

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s

A band with as turbulent an existence as Whiskeytown was bound to implode sooner or later, but by the time they did, they had one of the largest cult followings of any alt-country band. Most accounts traced the source of all the turmoil to bandleader Ryan Adams, a gifted young songwriter whose flashes of brilliance came hand in hand with a volatile temper and an appetite for alcohol. Adams became notorious for his outbursts and erratic performances, and countless disputes with bandmates (some of...
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Strangers Almanac (Deluxe Edition), Whiskeytown
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