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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "...All Wrapped Up...In The Ribbons Of Your Heart..." - Strangers Almanac [Deluxe Edition] by WHISKEYTOWN (feat Ryan Adams), 1 April 2008
Mark Barry "Mark Barry" - See all my reviews
This review is from: Strangers Almanac [Deluxe Edition] (Audio CD)
(David) RYAN ADAMS - Acoustic, Electric Guitars, Piano, Banjo, Percussion, Lead Vocals and Principal song Writer
PHIL WANDSCHER - Electric Guitar, Organ, Percussion and Backing Vocals
CAITLIN CARY - Violin and Lead/Backing Vocals
JEFF RICE - Bass Guitar
STEVEN TERRY - Drums, Percussion and Backing Vocals

"Strangers Almanac" was the 2nd album for North Carolina country-rock band Whiskeytown and first appeared to warm acclaim in the summer of 1997. "Faithless Street" from two years earlier had been their excellent and promising debut and the messy release of "Pneumonia", their 3rd and last album recorded in 1997, but not released until April 2001 was a few years away yet. (They actually disbanded in 1999 and both Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary went solo). Produced, engineered and mixed by JIM SCOTT, "Strangers Almanac" sounded like a band not just finding their feet, but a group 'arriving' - and big time. This 31 March 2008, 2CD DELUXE EDITION, is a major overhaul of that record (it's been available Stateside since January 2008) and for my money, it's already a strong contender for REISSUE OF THE YEAR.

A few things came together in 1997 - Ryan Adams' gifted songwriting had really begun to flourish into something special, the band was talented and playing beautifully, while producer Scott seemed to know exactly how to tap into the band's psyche and get their 'Whiskeytown' sound. Jim Scott would turn out to be a big part of the album's 'feel' and success. His truly beautiful production job on Tom Petty's "Wildflowers" from 1994 had won him an Engineering Award - and combining that same loose, gritty 'live' playing with a sympathetic sound engineer gave every track on the album a very real power and emotional punch. I mention the production a lot because the original CD I've had all these years has always sounded superb - but this TED JENSEN master is something else. Although the difference in the mastering is ever so subtle, the effect isn't. The SOUND IS NOW SIMPLY AWESOME. The album literally explodes out of the speakers in the most fully crystal clear manner ever. And listening to the acoustics of "16 Days" or the twin rough and ready electric guitars of the magnificent "Everything I Do" now, is like hearing them anew - it feels like there's an improvement in every instrument. You can suddenly hear them all. It seems that this time around, a gentle tweaking has brought out how well recorded they were in the first place. I don't think I've heard an album more perfectly improved on as this one is. And if that's not enough, there's 24 Previously Unreleased tracks thrown in too. Let's get to that...

Here's the breakdown:

DISC 1 (70:36 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 13 are the original album from 31 July 1997, released on CD as Outpost Recordings/Mood Food Records OPD 30005
Tracks 14 to 18 are 5 previously unreleased live performances from 10 September 1997, recorded/broadcast for "Brave New World" on KCRW-FM Radio in Santa Monica, California

DISC 2 (77:13 minutes)
Track 1: Indian Gown (Non-LP Track)
Track 2: 16 Days (Acoustic)
Track 3: Somebody Remembers The Rose (Acoustic)
Track 4: Avenues (Acoustic)
Track 5: Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight (Acoustic)
Track 6: Houses On The Hill (Early Version)
Track 7: My Heart Is Broken (Non-LP Track)
Track 8: I Still Miss Someone (Acoustic) [a Johnny Cash cover]
Track 9: Kiss & Make-Up (Non-LP Track)
Track 10: Barn's On Fire ((Non-LP Track)
Track 11: Dancing With The Women At The Bar (Early Version)
Track 12: Dreams (Non-LP Track) [a Fleetwood Mac cover]
Track 13: Breathe (Non-LP Track)
Track 14: Wither, I'm A Flower (issued on the promotional-only "In Your Wildest Dreams" EP in 1997 and then on the Soundtrack to "Hope Floats" in 1998)
Track 15: Luxury Liner (Non-LP Track) [a Gram Parsons cover]
Track 16: Theme For A Trucker (issued on the Soundtrack to Wim Wender's film "The End Of Violence" in 1997)
Track 17: Streets Of Sirens (Non-LP Track)
Track 18: Turn Around (Alternate Early Version)
Track 19: 10 Seconds (Non-LP Track)
Track 20: Ticket Time (Alternate Early Version)
Track 21: The Rain Won't Help You When It's Over (Early Version)
[Track 21 is an Alejandro Escovedo song, who also sang backing vocals on 3 tracks on the album, "Excuse Me While I Break My Heart Tonight", "Dancing With The Women At The Bar" and "Not Home Anymore"]

Disc 1:
Recorded for US Radio, the 5 previously unreleased tracks tagged onto the end of Disc 1 are a mixed bag. Both the performance and sound quality of "Houses On The Hill" and "Nurse With The Pills" seem dull, like the band is disinterested somehow. Not the best. But things improve considerably with "I Don't Care What You Think About Me", a new song that features great duet vocals with Caitlin Cary. The other two are good too, but for me, the real meat'n'potatoes starts on Disc 2...

Disc 2:
Excepting the two already released soundtrack songs, all tracks on Disc Two are Previously Unreleased and were recorded in two studio stints known as the "Barn On Fire" sessions (Tracks 1, 3, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21) and the "Baseball Park" sessions (Tracks 2 and 5). The "Barn On Fire" sessions were recorded in Durham in North Carolina and acted as a run-through and rehearsal for the "Strangers Almanac" album, while the "Baseball Park" sessions were put down in Modern Recording studios in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
(There were further recordings at Chapel Hill and tracks from that session turn up on the 1998 extended version of "Faithless Street" put out on Outpost OPRD-30002 (it has 9 added tracks to the 1995 album's initial 12 and is a good starting point after this album).

Thankfully the superb quality of sound on the album continues on the double-album's worth of unreleased material on Disc 2. As you can see, there are three cover versions, one ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO song and the rest of the tracks are written solely by RYAN ADAMS. (Tracks 6, 7 and 18 are co-written with CAITLIN CARY, while 1, 3, 19 and 20 are co-written with PHIL WANDSCHER).

The acoustic nature of about half of the tracks on Disc 2 make it feel like an extended 'unplugged' session at times. And this is not a bad thing at all, because these aren't poorly recording home demos or half-finished rough versions - they're properly recording studio pieces, so the sound quality that came through on the album does so here too - and it makes a huge difference to the listen. If anything some of the tracks are all the more beautiful for being stripped down like this - they have an almost eerie "Nebraska" feel to them - real and of the moment. The production quality is fantastic. I'm reminded of Rick Rubin's stunning work on the five Johnny Cash American Recordings albums.

Track 2 is typical, just when I thought "16 Days" couldn't get any more touching, this initial 'acoustic take' of the song - in my opinion - almost aces the finished version - it's just breathtaking and fans will adore it (lyrics above). The brilliant "Breathe" and the FACES feel to "The Rain Won't Help When It's Over" are rocking highlights, as is "Barn's On Fire". Both "10 Seconds" and "Ticket Time" kick ass as well - great band efforts. The opener is a pretty little song about a pretty little girl in an "Indian Gown" with really tasty guitar work featured - a quality track most bands would kill a close relative to have. The band's cover version of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" isn't great, but the solo acoustic take of Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" is lovely. The full on countrified "Kiss & Make-Up" and "Luxury Liner" are impressive too with Bill Ladd's complimentary pedal steel work on "Kiss & Make-Up" being particularly sweet. It's astonishing really that the quality across all the tracks is so damn good - I'll be listening to these a lot - I know it - and not treating them like they were 'interesting' - play them once and then leave them on the shelf.

To sum up - this is a brilliant album given a stunning sonic upgrade and a shed load of previously unreleased material you will want to hear again and again. There have been some truly superb DELUXE EDITION releases in Universal's catalogue, but this is really something special. Buy with confidence and I envy you the journey...
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a PROPER reissue!, 7 May 2008
Ted Maul "Ted Maul" (Cowsick) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Strangers Almanac [Deluxe Edition] (Audio CD)
This, truly, is an amazing record. In my opinion this is the high point of Ryan Adams' career thus far- there was one very,very good Whiskeytown album after this (Pneumonia) and one absolute classic solo LP (Heartbreaker) and many,many quality tunes (Political Scientist,Magnolia Mountain,Nuclear,etc,etc,etc). But a good marker of quality in these reissues is the bonus material-and amazingly,most of it is just as good as the original album. Which proves just how much of a roll Adams was on circa 1997.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous, Fabulous Record, 8 Aug 2008
Christopher Hunter "cjhunter2001uk" (Farnham UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Strangers Almanac [Deluxe Edition] (Audio CD)
I love Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown. There is something completely compelling about this record. At a stage when the band was on the verge of breaking up something magic happened and they produced what is probably the most complete alt-country (I'm not using the term Americana!!) release of it's time. I'm not going to pick any track because there are no turkeys on the great record.

It also comes with a 70 min extra CD of out-takes and unreleased tracks, many of which would put other bands to shame if they had been on the original release. Faultless.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Embrace this stranger, 31 Jan 2014
Koos "Koos Reitsma" (Groningen, Netherlands) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Strangers Almanac [Deluxe Edition] (Audio CD)
"Strangers Almanac [Deluxe Edition]" is one of the finest reissues and Deluxe Editions in my music collection. It's a reissue like a reissue should be: the original album itself, some live recordings, some work-out-songs, some different takes, some surprising covers, interesting notes to read, everything carefully picked and packed into a 2cd box.

Probably Ryan Adams is the most favour member of Whiskeytown. Strangers Almanac is the second of three records by this altcountry/rootstrock/americana band and personlly I think it's their best. Most input/songs are by Ryan Adams. Compared with his solorecords this Strangers Almanac is defnitely no stranger and can stand up to Ryan his best solo records.

CD1 is the original record plus some live recordings. It's pure semi-accoustic and electric altcountrymusic including the steelguitar. The band provides a good mix of intimate songs, fast songs, slow songs, rocksongs and gentle songs. 'Inn town' is the gentle, warm opener, the second song 'Excuse me while I break my own heart tonight' speeds up little, the third 'yesterdays news' rocks with the right speed, then to drop down in speed in the slow accoustic '16 days'. With each song the attitude, mood and speed is different.

CD2 gives a good insight of a workingband in progress without listening to some low quality left over songs. On the contrary: some beautiful accoustic versions that makes you wonder why they did not include those versions on the original records, some songs that did not made the record, excellent covers ('I still miss someone' and a surprisingly rockier version Fleetwood Mac's 'Dreams') and a very different version of the rocker 'Turn around'. The different drumstyle compared with the CD1-verison makes the song a high appreciated one. Only the last three songs sound a little bit the same. For all the other songs: the variousity within the songs on this second CS is pretty impressive.

People have the habbit keeping a distance towards strangers. They should not keep their distance to "Strangers Alamanac" but embrace it. It's a cornerstone in the altcountrymusic.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent country rock album, 25 April 2010
It remains a matter of debate if Raleigh's Whiskeytown were ever ready to sign to Major label Outpost (backed by Geffen) in 1996. The bands plug in and play attitude to live shows had either been great or a let down depending on any given night, and although the bands first album "Faithless Street" had shown a promise of greater things, it also demonstrated they were far from the finished article. One thing was clear however, the precocous talent that was the bands singer and principal songwriter Ryan Adams could not be ignored. With a songwriting talent to match his attitude, it was very clear this guy was going to be a star with, or indeed without, Whiskeytown.

With the working title "Sorry I Said Goodbye" the band entered Woodland studios Nashville with producer Jim Scott with the knowledge that all but two ("16 Days" and "Yesterday's News") of the nineteen tracks recorded with ex DB's Chris Stamey just a few months after "Faithless Street" had been rejected outright by the new label. The band and particulary Adams had not taken this news well at all. Things started to get from bad to worse when Scott's desire to use ultra modern recording clashed with Adam's peferred spontaneity of recording live, unsurprisingly he quickly became disillusioned with the whole project. As Adam's later pointed out in a future interview - the recording of Strangers Almanac killed the band.

This album, therefore, has no real right to be as good as it is. Yes, it's overproduced and definately lacks the charm of "Faithless Street", but the songs really are fantastic. "Inn Town", "Somebody Remembers The Rose", and "Avenues" are lovely, crafted acoustic numbers. "16 Days" and "Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight" (featuring ex Rank And File's Alejandro Escovedo) are both great catchy commercial country rock songs in the style of Steve Earle/Eagles. The albums faster songs show a healthy respect for American alt rock scene and, I suspect, the bands own heroes; the slightly Buffalo Tom sounding "Waiting To Derail" and "Yesterday's News" (cheekly stolen from the Replacements "Nowhere Is My Home") are both excellent and probably a good indication of the band's live sound. The Soulful "Everything I Do" and "Dancing With The Women At The Bar" show the first hint of Ryans future solo "Gold" direction. But it's the extrordinary "Houses On The Hill" where Ryan's vocal and songwriting talent really hits pay dirt. A wonderful story of lost love co-written by band Violin player/singer Caitlin Cary, the song is as good as anything he's ever recorded. The album does have weaker moments, "Turn around" is a poor pasiche of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" (a studio demo of which is included on the bonus CD of outtakes) and both "Losering" and "Not Home Anymore" are a little too self conscious for their own good, but these are very minor grumbles. Overall "Strangers Almanac" is a fine album.

Whiskeytown were a talented, exciting country/rock band who in retrospect probably needed more time to develop as songwriters. The legacy of "Strangers Alamanac" is however still one they must be immensely proud of. Five stars*

* A Quick mention about the deluxe edition - It includes an extra CD demo's, B-Sides and Live recordings which is great addition to the overall album and really worth a review in it's own right.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Alt-Country Gold, 23 Mar 2009
J. Jenkins (Dudley Port, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Strangers Almanac [Deluxe Edition] (Audio CD)
Stranger's Almanac, considered a cornerstone release of the alt-country/No Depression scene in the late 90s, is here given the lavish, double-disc treatment, which should be as good an excuse as any to pick up a fantastic album.

Half country, half unabashed rock and roll, Whiskeytown here invoke the cracked romantic spirit of punks like The Replacements and The Pogues, alongside more traditional, talismanic C&W figures like Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash.

Always portrayed as a dysfunctional unit, internal tensions were allegedly rife at the time of recording, largely due to the behaviour of primary songwriter and troublemaker-in-chief Ryan Adams. Whiskeytown's
albums became gradually less democratic, and Caitlin Cary and Phil Wandscher are here relegated from the position of co-frontpersons they enjoyed on the band's debut, Faithless Street, to roles more resembling supporting players.

Despite the fact the Cary and Wandscher have co-written many of the songs, you get the impression that Stranger's Almanac is predominantly the Ryan Adams show, which may obviously be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your feelings about Adams. For a fan such as myself, it's a good dynamic. Just as the Cardinals would later prove, although a band will never fully subsume someone with an ego and talent as big as Adams', (Despite his amusingly Tin Machine-esque protestations to the contrary), input from a band can be a useful foil when not allowed to overpower his maverick impulses. He's allowed to shine here, with what seems like just the right amount of external focus.

The album begins with Inn Town, a pretty, stately waltz, which gives way to the unbeatable run of the next three tracks; Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight, a showstopping anthem blending beautiful fiddle and steel guitar playing with rollicking punk attitude; Yesterday's News, which rides a crunchy, distorted guitar riff to a euphoric climb and subsequent breakdown in the chorus; then 16 Days, which starts more placidly before building into another stormer, with a solid gold melody to match.

Next comes Everything I Do, a honky-tonk flavoured power ballad, (and obviously not to be confused with the chart topping effort from Adams' much maligned near namesake Bryan), before Houses on the Hill flexes Adams storytelling muscle with an affecting period narrative that shows he's capable of writing about much more than booze and girls effectively.

The dark, heavy Turn Around follows. On Dancing With The Women At The Bar, Adams basically sets out the stall on the hard-partying, drinking and carousing gentleman that would become his persona for the next decade or so. Basically the Country and Western Keith Richards. The dark side of this is Waiting to Derail, a distillation of self-destructive impulses set to driving guitars and pumelling, propulsive drumming.

Avenues is beautiful and desolate, and would be right at home on Heartbreaker. The chugging Losering, which builds layer after layer on the same refrain, is possibly my favourite on the whole record. Another pretty number, Somebody Remembers the Rose, precedes Not Home Anymore, which despite it's somewhat arcehtypal 'epic album closer'feel is still largely effective.

With this Deluxe Edition you also get a whopping 26(!) bonus tracks. Disc one features a Radio Session that veers from warm and joyous (I Don't Care What You Think About Me) to oddly pedestrian and detatched (Houses on The Hill).

On Disc Two there's the obligatory early/acoustic/demo versions of most of the songs from the original album, which will undoubtedly appeal to those who think that Heartbreaker is the unassailable artistic pinnacle of Adams achievement, but which to my ears are basically inferior versions of the ones you can listen to on the other disc. There's several songs originally intended for the unreleased Those Weren't the Days album which are okay but you can kind of see why the album was eventually jettisoned. They're a little repetitive and can't touch anything on Faithless Street or Stangers Almanac. There's a different take on My Heart is Broken, which appeared on Jacksonville City Nights, affectionate readings of I Still Miss Someone and Luxury Liner by Cash & Parsons, a cover of Dreams by Fleetwood Mac and a couple of soundtrack contributions.

None of the above negative comment is meant to unfairly diss these tracks, they're cool and worth having, and as someone who has spent many early morning hours trawling the internet for unreleased Adams material like a hopeless addict, even his most throwaway of compositions is of interest to me. But the main event here is undoubtedly the original album, which is basically flawless.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sweer Rock Country Sounds!, 29 Dec 2010
This review is from: Strangers Almanac [Deluxe Edition] (Audio CD)
Strangers Almanac has got that polished tone where that blend of rock and country seems to come together with perfection. I've been listening to Ryan Adams for ages now and I can't believe i discovered this classic album so many years later!
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Strangers Almanac [Deluxe Edition]
Strangers Almanac [Deluxe Edition] by Whiskeytown (Audio CD - 2008)
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