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Familiar with Strangers

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We asked several musicians, journalists and fans to share their thoughts on Strangers Almanac 11 years after its release.

Chris Stamey [Whiskeytown producer and collaborator]

I first heard Strangers Almanac, unsequenced, in Mark Williams' hotel room at SXSW. I sat there under headphones and played it all the way through. "Inn Town" was what grabbed me the most then; Ryan and Phil, at their best, could, with simple strokes, paint that combination of hope and desolation better than anyone. I always like the way Jim Scott can "cut to the chase" and simplify the sound back to the root emotions. It seemed to have enough of the raw and enough of the cooked, and it still felt like Raleigh despite the Nashville connection. There were some songs I'd played on and recorded in earlier versions, and these were the hardest to hear at first, as I had the doppelganger prior takes in my head as well. It was probably the third or fourth listen before I could take it all in. I guess I missed the Caitlin side of things a bit on Strangers, in the final cut, but she was just about to bloom. It all worked out in the end.

Van Alston [owner of the Comet Lounge and Lakeside Lounge, and Ryan Adams confidant]

Strangers Almanac is one of my top five records, and not just top five by Triangle bands. I believed then and believe now that it is the definitive alt.country record. When I first got hold of a copy, they asked me not to let anyone else hear it. So, I left it in the stereo in my bedroom and played it every night when I went to sleep. I never made it past the fifth song. I still think of it as two different records, the five-song Sleep EP and then the full version. Both of them are masterpieces.

Bryan Cody [Raleigh's—and quite possibly the world's—biggest Ryan Adams fan]

I purchased Strangers Almanac in 1997 and listened to it once or twice. I don't remember what made me interested enough to buy it, but my favorite local radio station at the time, 93.7 The Coast out of Norfolk, Va., played "16 Days" about 16 times a day for months. I also saw Steve Earle live for the first time in 1996 and started listening to all kinds of new music, starting with guest singers on his records like Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams, so I may have discovered them via that path. I did not pull Strangers Almanac off the shelf again until 2002. It is now one of those handful of records I feel I was missing out on even though I owned a copy.

Thad Cockrell
  • Thad Cockrell

Thad Cockrell [Nashville-based singer/songwriter who got his musical start in the Triangle]

The first time I heard Strangers Almanac somebody gave me an advance copy at a record store. Drove home to Wake Forest in a family brown station wagon, and it didn't leave the CD player for some time. I grew up listening to Haggard, The Cure, Don Williams, and gospel music all at the same time. What was interesting to me is that Ryan borrowed bits and pieces from all these. What was even more interesting was the band intersected in a place that seemed unaware of itself. I think Caitlin's fiddle playing and harmonies have as much to do with the sound of that band as does Ryan's emotional singing. I suppose it was the first musical camaraderie I had ever felt. Beautiful.

Peter Blackstock [No Depression coeditor and author of the liner notes for Strangers Almanac reissue]

In the spring of 1997, we'd just finished sponsoring a tour that featured Whiskeytown along with three other bands. It was pretty clear that their upcoming record should be a big priority with us, but we've always been hesitant to confirm the extent of our coverage of an artist until we hear the record in question. Once we heard the advances of Strangers Almanac, it was a pretty easy call to put them on the cover of our July-August 1997 issue. They'd succeeded in delivering on all the hype that Faithless Street had generated; it was a more mature record but still had that fire burning deep down. ...

I revisited Strangers Almanac in considerable detail last summer when I was asked to write the liner notes for the deluxe-edition reissue. I was somewhat surprised at how well it seems to have held up over the years; all things considered, I think a solid case can still be made that it's the finest album Ryan Adams has recorded to date. I know for a fact that quite a few artists were inspired by it: Kathleen Edwards in particular has spoken of the record's direct effect on her, to the extent that she sought out its producer, Jim Scott, to work with her many years later.

The Cartridge Family
  • The Cartridge Family

Greg Rice [The Cartridge Family and The Olympic Ass-Kicking Team]

Strangers Almanac is literally one of my all-time favorite records. I mean, who didn't love going to The Comet! Seriously though, I believe my copy of the album came from Sadlack's, and since I came along after Whiskeytown had gone its separate ways, all of the stories that I'd hear came across almost like some weird folklore. Nostalgia, melancholy, hope—these all show up in the lyrics and the arrangements on Strangers Almanac. The production's great, too: it's not too slick, so you can still tell that there are real people back there. I've always loved the imagery and vocal harmonies on "Houses on the Hill" and especially the chorus and "The trip" on "Dancing with the Women at the Bar." Needless to say, I never took the record back.

Chip Robinson [The Backsliders]

Let's see. About 15 years ago I was working for Scott DeMattos at his amp repair shop. Phil Wandscher would bring his amp in to get worked on. One day he comes in and says, "We're putting together a country band." I'm like, "That's cool," but I'm thinking, "Yeah, good luck kid." But I digress. Anyway, today at the shop we played Strangers Almanac (the original Outpost version). Hell, it's actually held up pretty good over the years.

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