Album: While You Weren’t Looking (Bonus Disc).
Caitlin Cary was a singer, songwriter and fiddle player for Whiskeytown, and she was tough enough to go face to face with enfant terrible Ryan Adams and smart enough to get a Whiskeytown vintage recording of one of his (or most likely, their) best songs – and a candidate for Prettiest Song Ever Recorded (Americana Division) as a bonus track for her first solo album.
I’ll get into my deep love for Whiskeytown when I get there in a couple of years or so, but for now, just a story …
It was 1998, and Rox & I were seeing Whiskeytown in San Francisco for the second time. The year before, we’d witnessed an absolutely incendiary performance at the Bottom of the Hill – a wedding present from Matt Brown – and this time, they didn’t seem to be quite as amazing, as Ryan Adams seemed to be visibly annoyed about something.
In any event, this turned out to be the show where he got so annoyed at the sound crew – a combination of the sound and the fact that he couldn’t smoke due to California’s recently-enacted indoor smoking ban – that he kicked the monitors offstage at the end of the show. I remember all of that, but that’s not the thing I remember the most about this show.
What I remember is that at some point during all of the ongoing chaos, everybody else from Whiskeytown was offstange, and it was just Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary, fiddle and guitar, who started singing this:
When I am buried don’t visit my grave
God cannot save me from the sins I’ve embraced
Pay your respects at the old liquor store
Where I won the battle, but I lost the war
Whoa. Because it was just the two of them, and the melody they were singing was both timeless and new, I was transfixed.
You mine for silver, and I pan for gold
You keep yours hidden, while all my are sold
You tell the truth, and I lie and I barter
And I drink and I cry, and I pass out at night
Now, you gotta realize that Whiskeytown’s Stranger’s Almanac was probably my favorite album of the past two or three years, and it was filled with amazing songs. And within two verses, this song I’d never heard before was already as good as any of them. Well maybe not “16 Days,” but still.
I’ve always cheated, though I’ve never stolen no
I’ve wanted things that you ain’t never thought of
Pay your respects to that gambling’ score
Where I won the battle, and I lost the war
By this time, I knew I was going have to tell everyone who cared that while the entire show was a mess – especially compared to the previous time – there was this song, the gorgeous duet between Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary, who for the first part of the last verse didn’t even play their instruments, because that’s how good their voices sounded together.
They always told me when death came my sins would be
Cast out, forgotten, laid to rest with my body
Pay your respects to that old church-house door
Where I won the battle, and I lost the war.
So you could imagine how disappointed I was in the next year or so when Napster gave forth not just the original Pneumonia album, but dozens and dozens of Whiskeytown outtakes from their entire recording career, and the only place where I found any kind of recording of this was from a bootleg of their Austin City Limits performance in 1997.
But then, in 2002, it showed up as a bonus track for Caitlin Cary’s first solo album – both a sweet and cocksure move on Ryan Adams part – and I have treasured it ever since.
Video for “The Battle”