Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ryan Adams - Sad Dracula

Ryan Adams  at Oracle Arena, from the HAD Archive

The impending release of Ryan Adams' Ashes And Fire has had us champing at the bit for a while now, and  as a result we've been digging through the (extensive) archives of Ryan's prolific career to sate our needs until the album finally came around (which, if you're paying attention, it has).  As we dug through all the demos, unreleased studio sessions and live tracks, one in particular caught our ears this week: Sad Dracula.

Culled from the days when Adams was posting a new record (yes, you read that correctly) on his website almost weekly, Sad Dracula is one of Adams' many alternate egos adopted for these projects (others included such notables as Ghetto Birds, Warren Peace, and WereWolph).  In fact there are two albums under the Sad Dracula moniker Fasterpiece and Let It B-Minus.  Both are surprisingly finished as studio records, and offer an amazing double album from Adams' rock persona, at arguably its strongest in quite a while.

For us, the more rocking side of Ryan Adams has always been a compliment to his introspective acoustic jams.  The yin-yang of Rock N Roll and Love Is Hell served to cement in our minds the breadth of Adams' talent, and his ability to wear many hats.  As one might guess, this preference has left the last few years of official releases longing for some balance.  While the Cardinals can definitely rock out live, their records (with the exception of the recent III/IV) tend to be on the mellower side, while not getting all the way down to the introspection that is promised by Ashes And Fire.  As such, Sad Dracula has been our Ryan Adams rock and roll treat for the past week and a half.

In short, Sad Dracula is a set of straight-ahead demos for 23 songs.  All songs are performed by a 5 piece band (presumably the Cardinals), and all of them blaze with a rawness and honesty that simply hasn't been heard on any of Adams' rock records.  Part of the problem with Adams is that when he drifts into the rock and roll vibe in the studio, the results inevitably become so manicured that he gets written off as being a poppy sell out, or simply mocking the status quo.  By contrast, Adams' live show is populated with so much heart-on-sleeve soulful rock riffs, that he can sell out venues anywhere he goes.

Sad Dracula finally takes that live feel and brings it into the studio.  If you saw the Cardinals live over the past five years, then these are the records you always wanted to hear.  There are early versions of "Dear Candy" and "Natural Ghost", as well as "Lost & Found", which appeared on PaxAm's digital singles series.  Suffice it to say, those are just 3 of 23, and the rest are on par.  

Now, granted, Sad Dracula is not perfect.  Tracking in at two records and twenty three tracks, it probably could be trimmed to one and twelve.  However, that doesn't change the fact that the real gem here is not the songwriting (although much of it is very, very, good) - it is the essence of a fantastic live band, captured in the studio in a very real and visceral way that simply cannot be faked.  If you have any love for Ryan Adams or the Cardinals, then that reward is nothing short of magnificent.

While the Sad Dracula records did stream on the internet, they were never officially released, and have been gradually appearing track by track.  Out of respect for Adams' founding his own label and really investing in the record business, we're going to forgo posting a link.  Nonetheless, like most things on the internet, if you really want it you can probably find it.