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neumu
Sunday, December 17, 2017 
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Whiskeytown
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Pneumonia
Lost Highway
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Alt-country and Americana are two genre names now bandied about recklessly to describe a subcategory of "roots" music. Like other equally loaded genre titles — emo, for example — they are rarely employed by artists to describe their own music. Rather, journalists use them to sum up an entire record in a word or two.

The now-disbanded Whiskeytown were alt-country, but to an equal extent, a pop band. This is the Catch-22 of narrow genre labelings. There's no doubting that Ryan Adams, singer and chief songwriter of the Whiskeytown material and now a solo artist, likes to incorporate equal amounts of bitter country, crunchy rock texture and smooth pop creaminess in his musical concoctions. Where bands like Uncle Tupelo and Wilco seem to be one (aching country) or the other (pop-rock), Adams combines all elements in his compositions. He's not afraid to throw a couple of amazing pop hooks, some country drawl and a bit of old-time rock-'n'-roll swagger into the same song. This works best on the deceptively simple "Crazy About You," an optimistic lovestruck ode to a former partner that has a killer catchy chorus: "And I want to be happy/ And I only want you/ If you think that I'm crazy/ I'm just crazy 'bout you." On the luscious "Don't Be Sad," Whiskeytown do their best Pernice Brothers impersonation, with warm strings and ringing guitars backing one of Adams' most "straight" vocal performances — even incorporating a Joe Pernice-styled whispering lyric line as the song climaxes.

Like the Red House Painters' Old Ramon, Pneumonia is an album that was caught up in label kafuffle and, as a result, saw its release delayed for literally years. This is unfortunate for any group, but all the worse because for now, at least, Pneumonia is a posthumous Whiskeytown release coming after a solo album from the prolific Adams. Where Adams' solo work is a little more stripped-back, the "buzz" building around them at the time they went into the studio to record Pneumonia afforded Whiskeytown extra time and money from which they clearly benefited. The fine craft of this record is especially evident on "Sit and Listen to the Rain" — cue the track and wait for the fine falsetto that rises in the climax. In this moment the record too is lifted a notch above alt-country's sometimes repetitive and self-reflexive nature to a higher plane — where it can exist outside of genre expectations.


by Ben Gook




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