North Carolina band Whiskeytown is nothing if not prolific. This eight-song EP (nine if you count the hidden bonus track) is just one of a number of recordings building up to this summer’s release of their major-label debut album Sorry I Said Goodbye, a torrent that includes a couple of Bloodshot singles and contributions to various compilations.
Rural Free Delivery is somewhat problematic in that the band is none too happy it’s seeing the light of day at all. The right to release these recordings was part of the quid pro quo for Whiskeytown to leave the independent label Mood Food for Geffen-affiliated Outpost Records. That said, it’s still worthwhile for the same reason all Whiskeytown records are worthwhile: Ryan Adams just plain doesn’t make bad music. Sloppy, sure. But anybody who can listen (really listen) to him and not hear what a great singer and brilliant songwriter the guy is — well, they’re to be pitied.
Rural Free Delivery consists of demos predating the band’s 1995 debut Faithless Street, including two songs that later showed up on that album (“Oklahoma” and the statement-of-purpose manifesto “Angels”). The band had only been together a couple of months at the time. But, rough edges and all, Adams’ raw ability was apparent even then.
Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown” is ingeniously recast here as a breezy countrypolitan romp, Adams’ deadpan delivery contrasting with the dire lyrics — an early example of the possibilities in Whiskeytown’s country-punk fusion. The loopy swing of “Guns to Town” is one of the most ragged-but-right songs they’ve ever put down on tape, maybe the definitive recording of this version of Whiskeytown. And the exquisitely detailed “Pawn Shop” (punchline: “ain’t no place for a wedding ring”) is still one of Adams’ best songs. He sings it beautifully, with singer/fiddler Caitlin Cary playing the perfect foil.
Another piece of the puzzle. But the biggest piece of all is yet to come.