Ryan Adams & Neal Casal: Gifted Rocker Showcases his Singer/Songwriter Abillities Unplugged & Acoustic

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 640   By: Scott Baker

28th June, 2007     0

Nestled tightly across a dimly lit stage, Ryan Adams and The Cardinals held mass at The Gem Theatre in Detroit on Wednesday, June 20th.

The venue, located at one end of a convenient parking ramp on Madison, with the legendary Elwood Gill at the other end, was sandwiched neatly between Ford Field and Comerica Park. With the 104-year-old Little Gem Theatre, it was the perfect setting for an all-acoustic evening of classic and brand new gems from Adams himself.

Having sold out the 400 seat venue in a minute or less early in the month, a concert attendee was quoted as saying he had purchased a pair of the golden ducats for a mere $250 apiece’ on Ebay.

Plotting the twilight around his brand new album Easy Tiger (due June 26), Adams was guitar-less and seated (having pulled a wrist ligament while skateboarding in May) as the band sat side-by-side. The news was a bit of a shock initially as the audience discussed pre-show, however as the music brewed throughout the night, it became apparent that Adams' guitar wasn't meant to be a focus, as guitarist Neal Casal made up for it in spades. Undoubtedly, the night was a focus on the singer-songwriter, with an acoustic based groove - a style for which Adams hasn't toured with as of late. Obviously rocking out wasn't the reason to be there and the singer brought some of his finest vocal performances in years. He was spot-on and enjoying himself, reacting with good humor to the receptive during interplay with the classic Detroit crowd.

Adams delivered a slew of different songs from the past and dug right into the 20-song set, which spanned over an hour and a half of music, including the encore.

At one point, Adams pawed through his songbook onstage only to throw his hands in the air and exclaim, 'There's just too many freakin' songs!'.. much to the group and the audiences’ laughter. Adams also pointed out that he let the band choose the setlist for the evening, which allowed him to be ready for anything. He was healthy and on his toes like no other night in Michigan.

After the show, guitarist/backing vocalist Casal, a renown singer-songwriter in his own right, was kind enough to meet up to plan an interview with The Review. Casal gave a glimpse into Adams' musical world, as well as discussed his own musical history and how it all ties together for this new highlight in his own storied career.

Review: How did you get involved playing with Ryan? Have you played with him in the past?

Neal Casal: I've known Ryan since ''97, Whiskeytown days for him, early solo years for me. We've always talked about doing something, but the time wasn't right. I ran into him and Jesse Malin on the street in NYC a couple years ago. We just looked at each other and knew it was finally time to do something.

R: What role, since you are a solo artist as well, did you play on Easy Tiger? What are your favorite tracks?

NC: I played guitar, piano, sang harmony, and helped arrange the songs. I love all the songs on this record; I think it's a fine piece of work. Ryan is the most inspiring songwriter I've ever been around.

R: Of all your side-spots throughout the years (Lucinda Williams, Shannon McNally, Ryan, etc.) what are your favorites ones, if any? Any cool stories?

NC: Playing with Ryan and the Cardinals is head and shoulders above anything I've ever done with anyone else. Nothing even comes close.

R: You have a very busy solo career. How do you plan your year or time and what takes precedence?

NC: I have an extremely busy life and planning is a problem sometimes. It's hard to explain how it's done, because it changes on a day-to-day basis. I just try to feel it out and do whatever I'm most excited about at the time.

R: What is it about Ryan that you think the public understands that keeps him a consistent draw?

NC: I think his massive talent is what keeps things interesting. All of the stories and notoriety is one thing, but his career would not have lasted unless he continued to make quality records and songs, which he is obviously still delivering on a consistent basis.

R: How do you go about getting your music heard in the U.S., with the majority of your fanbase in Europe? What do you have to do to make it work and what does the States lack that might open their ears?

NC: I don't really do that much fighting to get my music heard to be honest. I just don't have the energy for it anymore, and I never had much to begin with. I have unlimited energy for songs, records, shows, making photographs, and all the things I love to do, but the fight to be heard doesn't interest me much now. Besides, it's a battle I don't think I can win.  It's all I can do to just write the songs, make the records, and do good shows. I'm lucky to have a label in Europe that believes in me and I usually just go with that.

R: Was this short tour run with Ryan meant to be an all-acoustic based tour, or did his torn ligament alter the idea behind the run...or...?

NC: It was meant to be an acoustic tour before he injured his wrist. The only thing that's changed is that I'm the only guitar player now and I've had to cover more ground musically. But it's been no problem at all. I'm used to that kind of thing.

R: What is your favorite thing about playing with Ryan right now?

NC: Almost everything about it is great. The guy has such a wild spirit and it's great to see where he'll lead things and (to) be part of the process. We sing great together and the way our guitars weave together is just off the hook man, I've never experienced anything like it.

R: How did the Detroit show differ from the other shows on this run? What were your favorite parts of the night/songs?

NC: Dear John was my favorite from that show.  We also did a few new arrangements that night. We played Strawberry Wine for the first time and also a new arrangement of Beautiful Sorta.

R: Your recent solo CD, No Wish To Reminisce gets great reviews. What did you do for that record, if any, different from your past albums?

NC: The sound is very different from my earlier records, which had a much drier sound and were based around the acoustic guitar. I wanted this one to be less rootsy and have a more psychedelic sound with a classic pop aesthetic and a dreamlike quality. I sought out producer Michael Deming, who is the master of this kind of sound.

R: What was it like working with Willie Nelson? (Ryan and the Cardinals produced and backed Nelson on his 1996 release Songbird)

NC: It was amazing, he was exactly like you’d expect him to be, the legend Willie Nelson. He plays it all up to the hilt and really lives the dream. I don't know-he's kind of a weird guy actually. He's so stoned that it seems like he's just on permanent disconnect. He sure can sing though, and he plays a mean game of pool. He came to the studio, smoked some weed, we shot some pool, drank some whiskey, played some songs, and made a record out of the experience. Couldn't be better really.

R: As you told me, you lived in Ann Arbor for a while. From what years and what bands did you play with? Or solo? Any great Michigan stories?

NC: I lived in A2 through the end of '88 through early '91 and had an amazing time there. It was a great place to be 19, ya know? Stories? Well, I lived in a barn through the winter of '88, living by kerosene heater and stealing food from the gas station on the corner. I had a great girlfriend who lived in Oak Park. Michigan girls have a special thing, I'll tell you that much. I went to Ted Nugent's house once. That was weird. Animal heads all over the place. I can't even remember how I got there. I turned 21, and these insane guys I was hanging with took me to this strip club called the Landing Strip and I was covered in naked women. I learned about the great tradition of rock music there. The old bands like the Scott Richard Case, that great Mitch Ryder record from '71 called Detroit.  The Smokin' OP's record, those kind of things. I was just a kid. I learned all about girls and drugs and bad behavior in Michigan, so will always have a place in my heart for it.

R: What is in store with you and Ryan for the rest of the year--a larger scale tour for Easy Tiger??

NC: Touring all year, making Easy Tiger as successful as it can be and a bigger electric tour in the fall.

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