Reviewed by Jerry Renshaw, Fri., Sept. 29, 2000
Waltzie (Yep Roc)Ryan Adams, who lived in Austin for about five minutes, has always been a bit maddening. His band Whiskeytown, like Spinal Tap, has had at least 37 members over the years, pointing to someone who's a tad, er, difficult to deal with in a band setting. Adams himself has too often leaned toward rather self-absorbed songwriting and watery Jackson Browne-isms in his performance. Despite all that, however, the guy has an undeniably fat amount of talent, and Heartbreaker finds the 25-year-old sounding quite grown up in a Sixties-folk sort of idiom. Things kick off with a bang on "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)," but don't be put off by the title; the song rocks in a convincing "Maggie's Farm" fashion, guitars wailing and Adams alternating between a croon and a snagged-on-the-barbed-wire yowl. The Dylan analogy is useful, because from that point, the disc begins to evoke Sixties icons Dylan, Phil Ochs, and Gram Parsons. Accompanied mainly by an acoustic guitar, Adams hunkers down for strong efforts like "Bartering Lines" and "Call Me on Your Way Back Home." He even teams up with Emmylou Harris for "Oh My Sweet Carolina" and Kim Richey for "Come Pick Me Up." It'd be somnambulistic if it wasn't so damn pretty and good. "Shakedown on 9th Street" shakes things up again in Stonesy fashion, with kindred spirit Gillian Welch kicking in on vocals, and provides a fitting coda for the disc. Fiddler Caitlin Cary has been the one stalwart of the various Whiskeytown lineups, having stuck with the band through thick and thin, beginning way back in 1994. Her debut CD is a scant five songs, dragooning dream players like Chris Stamey and Whiskeytown drummer Skillet Gilmore, but it's a damn good five songs. Cary's voice and fiddle work are a perfect complement to each other, simple and elegant as a Shaker chair. "Big Town," awash with tremolo guitar, is an ethereal tale of self-destruction that belies its lyrics. "Nursery Lie" lopes along in waltz tempo, while the mood of "Withered & Died" fits its rather bleak lyrics perfectly. Waltzie isn't exactly the most uplifting disc you're gonna hear, but it's the perfect companion piece for Adams' release and shows Cary to be a talent who can easily stand on her own two feet.