Saturday, May 14, 2016


Sixteen years after his breakthrough solo album was released, it's still the one Ryan Adams is best-known for, unless you count the Taylor Swift covers. With music being released fast and furious since, I don't think it's so much a question of him not matching that favourite, but rather too much of a good thing, and some of the better moments getting lost in the flood. However, you can't deny this is still one heck of an album, and now made better with a disc of bonus cuts and a DVD of a period solo show.

Most bonus discs of demos and out-takes present them as single cuts; here Adams lets us into the actual sessions themselves, by letting us hear the tapes rolling. First there's a casual version of The Smiths' Hairdresser On Fire, which spawned the famous opening cut on Heartbreaker, the argument with Dave Rawlings about Morrissey. Then we hear as Adams, Rawlings, Gillian Welch and producer/drummer Ethan Johns plug away at the cuts, learning and recording. This includes learning takes of some of album material (Come Pick Me Up, Sweet Carolina), and songs that wouldn't make the final list. This includes Petal In A Rainstorm, which showed up a decade later on a flexi-disc, When The Rope Gets Tight, which got changed to Don't Fail Me Now for the Jacksonville City Nights album, and even a punk jam when they get bored. Guest Emmylou Harris shows up, and we hear her learning the harmonies to Oh My Sweet Caroline. This alternate, laid-back version of the album is as enjoyable as the original.

Also featured are nine actual demos, down before the recording sessions, and again, new-to-us tracks appear, including the previously-unheard Locked Away, War Horse, and more band-oriented versions of tracks for Heartbreaker before the Johns, Rawlings and Welch acoustic-based album came together.

The DVD features a solo show at New York's Mercury Lounge a month after the album came out. While it's below-pro level, just one camera, it's watchable and the audio is great. Adams is still fully-invested in the material, and in some cases, the songs are more powerful solo, including the best AMY I've heard. It also features the debut of his cover of Oasis' Wonderwall, and we learn definitively that he thinks it's a great song, that's there's no irony involved. And just to show he couldn't stand still even then, there was already a brand-new song to perform, Just Like A Whore, which has been demo'd but never released. This is absolutely one of those must-own upgrades.

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