Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Ryan Adams has been a bit of everything over the years.  Since going solo from Whiskeytown in 2000, and making the breakthrough (and still his most popular album), Heartbreaker, he put out an astonishing 13 albums in 11 years, including 3 in 2005.  That doesn't count all the web-only collections, singles, and multi-disc sets on his website.  But the albums finally ground to a halt in 2011, as even he must have realized enough was enough.

Of course, we knew he'd be back, and probably grouchy and difficult as usual.  But as ...what?  He'd broken up The Cardinals in 2009, and who knew what he'd want to explore on a return.  Could it be punk or metal-influenced, or alt-this or Americana-that?  Would it be a band album like he did with The Cardinals, or an acoustic one?  Surprisingly, its the one I really didn't think he would make.  It's the accessible one.  In fact, this is a sound that should be very familiar to lots of folks, not so much from Adams but from many others.  Lots call it heartland rock, meat-and-potatoes (mostly) electric guitar music.  At its most obvious its Mellencamp, at its most mythic its Springsteen, and at its most poetic, Emmylou Harris.  Adams shows some of all three of those traits, leaning a little darker as usual, world-weary. 

I'm concerned about the lean to the mainstream, but it could be as simple as Adams truly feeling he has to reintroduce himself.  Certainly lots of folks have dropped off the train in the years since Heartbreaker.  At the same time, there are several really strong numbers here, if a little less ambitious that some previous incarnations of himself.  Digging into the lyrics, there's some dark stuff, and a lot of "can't's":  I can't sleep, I can't talk, I can't go home.  Put a big beat and big guitar chords along with that, and you have some emotional wallop.  The cut Trouble sounds like the kind that can please a lot of folks, starting with a Petty-ish guitar riff, and then coming in with "Trouble, I can hear the clock tick in the room."  Claustrophobia is certainly a reoccurring feeling here.  Adams doesn't limit himself though; there are a couple of acoustic strummers, including My Wrecking Ball, a pretty but sad love's over but still smouldering number.  WIth a big concert tour scheduled for the fall, it seems Adams is ready to play again, and play ball a little too.

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