What a difference a few thousand dollars can make. Originally recorded three short years ago by an unknown North Carolina band as the debut offering from an unknown North Carolina label (Mood Food), Faithless Street had about it the raw, scared urgency of a band that wanted desperately to get it right, but had no clear idea how to go about accomplishing that, and no certainty they would ever get another chance to try.
They did, of course, or at least some of them did. Leader Ryan Adams already begins to rival Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds for personnel turnover, but it matters only because Adams’ songs have managed (barely, sometimes) to live up to the hype generated by his early enthusiasts.
Remastered and remixed, amended and appended — courtesy Whiskeytown’s well-heeled second label, Outpost — Faithless Street has been rehabilitated as a 21-track work (bulked up from the original thirteen, though “Oklahoma” didn’t make the move uptown). Needless to say, the sound is much improved by the extra time and care major-label money can buy, though, happily, not intrusively enhanced. In particular, Phil Wandscher’s guitar no longer sounds like it’s underwater on the opening “Midway Park”, the vocals are brighter, and the instruments are, throughout, more distinctly placed.
Given the opportunity to reimagine his first album, Adams has made some interesting choices. A new song, “Tennessee Square”, now appears as the fourth track, and an alternate version of “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight” (from Strangers Almanac) and another new track, “Desperate Ain’t Lonely”, now sit between Caitlin Cary’s beautiful “Matrimony” and Wandscher’s raucous “Top Dollar”. They’re a trifle jarring if you know the record well, but fit tolerably well.
This new Faithless Street is rounded out with “Lo-Fi Tennessee Mountain Angel (For Kathy Poindexter)”, “Revenge” (an hidden track on the original that gets officially acknowledged this time around), “Empty Baseball Park”, “Here’s To The Rest Of The World”, early versions of “16 Days” and “Yesterday’s News” (two more Strangers cuts), and “Factory Girl” (which originally appeared on a promotional EP for Strangers). Some of the songs are outtakes from the Faithless sessions; others were recorded several months later as demos with producer Chris Stamey, who also handled the remixes of the original Faithless cuts. Not all of the new material is particularly strong (“Empty Baseball Park” and “Lo-Fi…” really aren’t much), and at 21 tracks, the reissue is not nearly the concise statement made in its original form.
However, minus the collector geek quotient, Faithless Street remains — in either version — a striking and compelling album. Here one still finds some of Adams’ most powerful songs, notably the title track and “Too Drunk To Dream”. As Adams becomes more and more self-aware of his place in the world as a recording artist, and more and more able to actualize musical visions that don’t altogether fit within the Whiskeytown framework (whatever that is), it is hard to imagine he will ever again summon (or at least reveal) the raw emotion that seeps through these vocals.