“In retrospect, I knew that was the last optimism I was gonna have for a long time.” - Ryan Adams
The cliché about Ryan Adams is that he always knows exactly what he’s doing. That every pratfall and every “fuck you” and every bit of record company bating is just a calibrated put-on. Indeed, his five years in Whiskeytown were years well-spent; he was an insufferable little bitch right from the get-go (the band only produced three proper albums, but the lineup changes were in the teens), and by the time it all crumbled down around him, he was Paul Westerberg, he was Gram Parsons. A guy who could melt your heart with two chords and an “ooh-la-la” before belting you one in the teeth and stealing your french fries or your girlfriend.
But if Adams always had one hand on the wheel, it doesn’t show on Faithless Street, Whiskeytown’s 1995 debut. He sounds terrified; his voice flows against his own songwriting, which is achingly confident. On “Midway Park,” a gorgeous double helix of pedal steel arpeggios continually builds and is shattered by the howling, slobbering chorus: “We’ll lie/ We’ll lie/ Don’t tell the truth/ Just lie.” On the doleful title track, Adams admits, “I started this damn country band/ ’Cause punk rock is too hard to sing.”
Faithless Street was reissued by Outpost in 1998, refurbished and expanded nearly twofold. Three of the nine bonus tracks -- “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight,” “16 Days,” and “Yesterday’s News” -- are copped from the Stranger’s Almanac album, but they sound better here, especially the classic “Excuse Me” (ravaged on Almanac as a duet with Alejandro Escovedo).
The real gem, though, is “Desperate Ain’t Lonely,” on which Adams shares vocals with violinist Caitlin Cary. There’s a definite tension there that isn’t sexual (not to my knowledge, anyway) or the result of creative differences (she stuck it out until the very end). It’s just their voices. He sounds wrecked, she sounds strong. She’s moving on, he’s not.
And some might say he never did.