A couple of weeks ago, I pledged to start writing much more about the music from my home state. Since then, I’ve been dipping into the mailbag a lot instead of making good on that promise. The mailbag has been hot and cold all year long, and right now it’s on fire. Or as the kids say, FIYAH. So expect a lot of that from now until the end of the year. I’m still gonna make good on my pledge, and tonight’s song is like a double dip. It’s a North Carolina expat covering a song by one of the Tarheel State’s finest transplants.
Ryan Adams was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and achieved enormous success with the Raleigh-based alt-country band Whiskeytown and the rock band Ryan Adams & The Cardinals. He doesn’t really need any introduction. Between his solo records and the stuff from his bands, he’s released 16 studio albums. Probably none more well-known than his 2001 solo record Gold.
Adams has been known as much for his volatile temper as his musical genius. He’s been known to lash out at his fans during performances, and he’s been known to lash out at critics. Especially those who mention him and Jeff Tweedy in the same article. There was an incident when he was supposed to collaborate on a British teevee show with Neil Finn from Crowded House and folk singer Janis Ian. He only half-heartedly participated, and allegedly was paying more attention to an eBay auction than he was to the performance. He’s also gets really really annoyed when people pretend to confuse him with Canadian pop star Bryan Adams. I’ve heard that he threatens to fight people when he overhears his audience members making that “joke”. Incidentally, Ryan isn’t even Ryan Adams’ first name. It’s his choice to go by his middle name. And in a funny coincidence, Ryan Adams and Bryan Adams have the same birthday — November 5. Of course, Bryan is 15 years older, but it’s still funny.
In 2000, on Ryan Adams’ brilliant Heartbreaker album, one of the best songs is “Come Pick Me Up”. That may or may not have been a reference to the 1999 Superchunk album of the same name, but we do know that he’s a fan of the band.
In 2009, the Chapel Hill-based Merge Records (owned and operated by Mac from Superchunk) celebrated its 20th anniversary by releasing a massive boxed set. 16 discs of brilliant songs by the various artists on the label over two decades. 14 of the discs were sort of “greatest hits mix tapes”, as curated by some celebrities from the music and film industry. There was also a remix cd and a really brilliant “covers” cd. Tonight’s song obviously comes from the “covers” disc. It’s the second-best song on the disc.
The original version is from Superchunk‘s 1994 album Foolish This is the fantastic cover.
“Like a Fool”, as covered by Ryan Adams
I’m not sure why Adams decided to play this like Radiohead, but that’s exactly what it sounds like. He’s singing like Thom Yorke and playing guitar like Jonny Greenwood. And it’s freakin’ amazing. When he sings out “Like a foooooooooooool” at 2:18, it reminds me a bit of “Fake Plastic Trees”.
He plays it a bit faster and a lot more Radiohead-esque than the original, and I have no problem with that. As much as I love tha Chunk, this cover is better than the original. By miles. What Superchunk has in energy, Adams has multifold in skill. All his personal peccadilloes notwithstanding, he’s highly skilled at singing and playing the guitar.
It’s kind of spendy, but totally worth it to buy the whole box set directly from the Merge Records web store here. It’s significantly more inexpensive, in this case, just to get the covers record here. It’s only $5 for the CD! Free shipping in the US! And Merge usually throws in some goodies like stickers, badges, sampler cds. Get it now.