I started the “Songwriter’s Point of View” segment with the intention of posting a contributing piece from a songwriter I respect and admire every month, but things haven’t been working out that way, so I’m going to post as I have always posted, as they come in trickling into my inbox. So, after asking singer-songwriter John Statz to write about his favorite album from a songwriter’s point of view, he promptly did so, and I’m extremely thankful.
Now, if you’re not familiar with John, get familiar. He’s a class-act who creates and writes truly amazing songs which he showcases on stellar albums like Ghost Towns and Old Fashioned. John has been influenced by an album from one of the most prolific and influential songwriters of the twenty-first century, Jacksonville City Nights from Ryan Adams & The Cardinals. This album put Americana, roots, and alt-country on John’s GPS setting him on a course that represents these genres as well as Ryan Adams.
My favorite album. Of all time. Man, that is an intimidating pick to have to make, and probably difficult to write about, right?
Actually, no. For me, it wasn’t. I had to think about it for all of a few seconds before I realized, yea, my favorite album of all time has to be Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Jacksonville City Nights. This album changed my life and musical direction when it first came out in 2005. I was in college, and while I had already been well-introduced to Ryan Adams, I was going through more of a jamband/festival phase. You know, the kind many college kids that like to party and camp out in Tennessee farm fields go through. So Jacksonville City Nights was like a breath of fresh air, and man did it wake me up. Of course I had long been into singer/songwriters, and was already writing and recording some of my early songs, but I was not at all into Country (even though I grew up with my Dad listening to quite a bit of it), couldn’t have said what Americana was, and had a vague understanding of “Alt-Country”. This is the album that pulled back the veil on all of that for me, and probably helped send my songwriting into a more Americana-based direction.
Now, like most Ryan Adams fans, I love most of what he has done but have some issues mostly pertaining to his vast output. Ok, III/IV was a total stinker, Rock N Roll was…interesting, Gold was great but super commercial-sounding. His albums with The Cardinals were, to me, his greatest. That outfit just clicked. The harmonies are perfect, I love the tasteful playing on every instrument, and when I saw them live they blew me away. I’ve never seen a full rock band with the kind of dynamic control that Ryan Adams & The Cardinals had live when I saw them in Milwaukee. They could get so quiet that the crowd could easily have talked over them, except that the crowd was silent. That is impressive, most band just play loud.
Anyways, in my opinion, JCN is the best of The Cardinals material. Every song on the record does something for me. Some, like “Dear John” or “September” are insert-and-twist heart-breakers, others like “A Kiss Before I Go” and “My Heart Is Broken” are just classic, fun country songs. And I never understood why “The Hardest Part” wasn’t a hit, that song is a sing-along catcy-as-all-get-out train-beat drummed masterpiece. I have to go back to “Dear John” for a moment, too. Seriously, has a more heart-wrenching duet between two pop icons ever been recorded? One thing I love most about that tune is that Ryan actually sings the higher vocal parts, soaring over Norah Jones’ sultry lines. Yep, guaranteed chest-tightening, tear-jerking bliss. I don’t know anybody else who sings quite as freely as Ryan Adams, which I love. Momentarily out of tune notes, voice cracks, and spoken sentences are all kosher as long as they are sung with wild, emotional abandon. I even love the cover of the album, which looks totally classic with that font, the list of songs on the front, the label stamp in the upper-left, and that broken red-tinted image is gorgeous.
My final reason for this being my favorite album of all-time: it is my go-to sing-along album when I’m on the road, especially if I’m driving through western Nebraska, eastern Colorado, or somewhere else equally boring. JCN always lifts my mood and gets me wailing along with the car stereo at the top of my lungs.
My only reluctance in picking this album would be that some might view Ryan Adams as a “cliche” Americana pick due to his popularity. But that was kind of the point for me. He, and this album in particular, were my introduction to the wonderful wide world of Americana, Roots, and Alt-Country. Jacksonville City Nights set me on my way.