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Friday, May 3, 2013

Darkbreaker (The Elizabethtown Sessions)

"I made [Darkbreaker] in L.A. at my most fucked up. That is really deep shit. That's right after Jacksonville City Nights, and it is some damaged stuff. You can pretty much hear me falling apart." - Ryan Adams

1. Cemetary Hill
2. The Sewers at the Bottom of the Wishing Well
3. Clementine
4. Everybody Knows
5. When the Wild Wind Blows
6. Dreams of a Working Class Clown
7. Words
8. Lions of Broadway
9. Who Were We?
10. Willows
11. Lighthouses
12. Saturday Night
13. Everything Dies
14. Two
15. Maps
16. Don't Get Sentimental on Me
17. Elizabethtown
18. Elizabeth, You Were Born to Play the Part

Ryan Adams - Vocals, Piano, Guitar
JP Bowerstock - Guitar, Vocals
Catherine Popper - Bass
Jon Graboff - Pedal Steel Guitar, Acoustic Guitar
Brad Pemberton - Drums

Produced and Engineered by Tom Schick
Recorded at Sunset Sound Factory, Los Angeles and at one other studio in New York City.

The Background

Darkbreaker is an unreleased album that Ryan Adams recorded in 2005, over the course of two sessions at studios, in Los Angeles and New York City. The sessions began after film director Cameron Crowe asked if Ryan would record some songs for his new movie - Elizabethtown. After laying down a couple tracks, Ryan's creative juices started flowing and the session soon led to 18 new recordings and an album! In the end, only one song ("Words") was used for the soundtrack, but it sparked a mountain of great new material, including the first two singles from Easy Tiger ("Two" and "Everybody Knows"). These sessions are fairly notable because not only do they feature some of Ryan's strongest and most heart-wrenching material, but they are likely the last recordings to feature JP Bowerstock on lead guitar with the Cardinals.

The details of the sessions for Darkbreaker are a bit fuzzy, and I'm not quite sure which songs were recorded where. But what I do know is that the Los Angeles sessions were done first as solo recordings with Tom Schick as producer/engineer. Then following the Cardinals tour of Japan and Australia; Ryan went into a New York studio with the whole band and a full string section to finish up. Still, some of the songs from New York City were recorded solo, and it's possible that some of the full band recordings feature Ryan Adams overdubbing drums, and bass parts on his own. Ryan posted the following info online, which clears things up slightly: 
"It was two separate sessions. Only the stuff with strings on it was recorded later. The first session was in the same room as GOLD ( sunset sound factory ) and I recorded it by myself with Tom Schick engineering and working the API in that little room. What a great sound.The rest of the stuff like Everything Dies and the slow stuff was after the Japan show disaster ( so many disasters to keep up with LOL ) and we were all so tired... But that was full on Cardinals with Cat, JP and Graboff... but they are not on Cemetery Hill and the WHo Were We ( my fav from this ) and all that. They are only on the live sounding tracks. The song "Elizabethtown" which is fucking horrid, was just the tape rolling with me trying to write a song for the move. What is really sad about the entire session is that it was meant to be a session where I wrote an "uplifting" song for Cameron. Ha. This depressive brain muck is all I could muster.I was in a rather druggy state, imagine that, and I was just spinning out by the second session. I was ok on the first but the second was a disaster and you can really hear it. What a sad life it was. Once in awhile some asshole somewhere will say something like " He was so much better when he was on drugs, etc blah blah" but really how I look at it is, I was always able to rise above whatever was going on and find some joy and make some music I loved. Thank goodness some things never change. Even if that means I have to be making some music that isn't for everyone.
I'll put this out one day as it was meant to be hopefully sans those awful end of the night tracks."  
Fans got their first taste of these new songs prior to the Cardinals show in Melbourne on July 27th, 2005. The songs recorded during the Los Angeles sessions were played over the PA system while fans waited for the group to go onstage that night. Since then, the album has been widely available through music blogs and download sites. In 2007, there were a few mentions by Ryan that Darkbreaker was going to be part of the long-rumored box set - 20:20. Since this was mentioned, plans fell through and Ryan left his old label, but luckily he regained control of his unreleased material. At some point, he plans to release this as an individual album.

My Review

Darkbreaker is a mixed bag full of amazingly strong piano ballads; newly written (and mostly sloppy) unrehearsed rockers, back-porch country tunes, and a few other hidden gems in between. All in all, when this is good, it's top notch; but when it's bad, it's pretty forgettable.

Of the album's 18 songs, 10 feature Ryan at the piano and are the best part of Darkbreaker in my opinion. These tracks have a bit of the same feel as 29, but the lyrics tend to me more direct and zen-like, rather than long and story based. A few of these numbers feature Ryan in crooner mode, and backed by a full string section, which only heightens the songs that much more. One of these - "Don't Get Sentimental on Me" is my all time favorite Ryan Adams song! The zen-like "Everything Dies" and bawl-worthy "Lighthouses" aren't too far behind. Ryan's heartfelt vocals backed with strings provide goosebump-inducing, tear jerking, swells of sound that carry these songs incredibly well!

Other highlights from this album include: "When the Wild Wind Blows" (a twangy Jacksonville City Nights outtake which would have been a highlight of the record), and "Words" (a short but stunning acoustic meditation that just might change your life). 

Many of the songs on Darkbreaker can be found as much stronger versions on other albums. "Clementine" (which was retitled from its' original version - "Madeline" on The Stockholm Sessions) drags along and crashes into dust. While "Everybody Knows" sounds as though it was written five minutes before being played. Still for every disaster, there's a different version of a song that beats out later releases. A couple that come to mind are: "Two" (which here is driven by piano and banjo, and features Love is Hell-like guitar fills, a slower tempo and different vocal phrasing); and "Elizabeth You Were Born to Play the Part" (which now features strings, stronger vocals, a faster tempo, and lacks the dragging coda of the original).


Key Tracks: "When the Wild Wind Blows", "Words", "Lions of Broadway", "Lighthouses", "Everything Dies", "Two", "Map", "Don't Get Sentimental on Me", "Elizabeth You Were Born to Play the Part"

Song Info

"Words" was the only song from these sessions which was given an official release on the soundtrack - Elizabethtown - Volume 2.

"Everybody Knows" and "Two" were later re-recorded and released on Easy Tiger.

"The Sewers at the Bottom of the Wishing Well" was re-recorded and released on the Ryan Adams and The Cardinals album - III/IV; as well as on the album Fasterpiece which was released as a free download under the Ryan Adams moniker - Sad Dracula.

"Lions of Broadway" was re-recorded and retitled "Steve Miller and Weed" for the 2006 album Let it B-Minus. This album was released as a free download under Ryan's pseudonym - Sad Dracula. It was also played live twice in September of 2004.

"Lighthouses", "Everything Dies", and "Don't Get Sentimental on Me" were also recorded for the unreleased Ryan Adams and the Cardinals album - War and Peace in 2006.

"When the Wild Wind Blows" was previously recorded for Jacksonville City Nights, but was not released.

"Elizabetht You Were Born to Play the Part" had previously been recorded and released on 29.

Re-recorded (and much better) versions of "Cemetery Hill" can be found as a bonus track on the Ryan Adams and the Cardinals album III/IV; as well as on the album War and Peace which was released as a free download under the Ryan Adams moniker - Warren Peace.

"Clementine" was originally titled "Madeline" and was recorded for the unreleased - Stockholm Sessions.

Another song titled "Saturday Night" was released on the Pinkhearts Sessions II, but is a totally different song.

"Dreams of a Working Class Clown" is an older song which Ryan performed regularly throughout 2001.

1 comment:

  1. where can I find a copy of this bootleg?