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Whiskeytown:A tale of two styles, but both work

Troubadour, Los Angeles, Feb. 3, 1998

By Dan MacIntosh

HOLLYWOOD, CA - Although Southern Californians are petrified to drive anywhere if there is but the slightest hint of a drizzle, even the rainiest night of the year could not keep fans from packing out The Troubadour to see a great double bill featuring underground folk singer Mary Lou Lord and alterna-country band Whiskeytown

Whiskeytown had the audience eating from its hands all the way through a beautifully loud performance.

Whiskeytown live brings out the inherent duality in the band: On the one hand, it's a traditional country band driven by the delightful fiddle playing of Caitlin Cary and the traditional approach to song writing that Ryan Adams applies. On the other hand, it can be a full-blown rock & roll powerhouse when Adams feels the inclination to let it rip.

This night clearly saw Whiskeytown in a rock & roll mood. On many of the set's 13 songs, the group's duel guitar assault drowned out the still small voice of Cary's whispering violin.

For example, "Dancing with the Woman at the Bar," which is given a gentle treatment on the group's latest release, "Stranger's Almanac," was renamed this evening as "Strip" and was played with what the band characterized as "more swagger." This made for on one delightful demolition derby of a rock song, but it was almost unrecognizable when compared to the original version.

Those who braved the stormy elements for Whiskeytown's sweet country soul, instead of its stinging swagger, were ultimately rewarded when Adams encored on a solo acoustic version of "Name and Number," which chronicled his difficult post-high school years. This moving tale was followed by another older composition called "I Lost The Battle," introduced as Adams and Cary's first song writing collaboration. It featured the two accompanying themselves with only a simple acoustic guitar and fiddle behind their beautifully intertwined voices, and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that Whiskeytown is just as great sans all the amplifiers In these moments, Adams braggadocio was all but gone; replaced instead by a touching vulnerability. This greatly contrasted with his free-flying and loose axe-grinding at the beginning of the show.

There he stood, clothed in nothing other than his naked emotions and telling stories like a true troubadour.

This leaves concertgoers with the impression that Whiskeytown is the tale of two cites, and a tale that can change dramatically on any given night. But it beats the Dickens, so to speak, out of sitting home just watching the rain fall.

After apologizing for being a little late, Lord nervously began evening's proceedings without any fanfare, armed only with an acoustic guitar.

Although this former Boston-area street musician - who has survived the fanfare associated being the subject of a recent major label bidding war - has always been a one-woman band, her opener was the one and only solo song in the set. Her nervousness was made all the more obvious when she forgot the words to "Book" halfway through it, so she then called for reinforcements from her five-piece backing band.

Lord then settled down to a comforting series of songs drawn primarily from "Got No Shadow," her major label debut for Work Records. The inclusion of "Some Jingle Jangle Morning" midway through her appearance exemplified best this singer/songwriter's approach to being a folk singer in the Nineties. Her sound reveals that she has studied well the musical innovations of folks like Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, who popularized the phrase "jingle jangle morning" with its cover of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," while her lyrics place her perspective clearly within the modern muse of the Generation X.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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