Ryan Adams

country, folk, Americana
others: Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam

Jacksonville City Nights
Lost Highway, 2005
rating: 3.5/5
reviewer: leah

With all Ryan Adams' talk about his latest release, one would think Jacksonville City Nights would be more gimmick than substance: there's the neon lights album artwork, the country brothel twang, and the storytelling lyrics. Despite all the silliness, though, one listen is enough to show that Adams is doing what he does best, and that's singing a country song. The record is a good mix of country and folk, and the country songs are delightfully filled with traditional twangy piano, pedal steel, and Adams' typical, wistful lyrics. The folkier tracks, like "September" and "The Hardest Part," would've been at home on Cold Roses, but they fit in nicely here and provide a little familiarity for fans who haven't yet dug through Adams' back catalogue to the Whiskeytown records.

As with most Adams records, the fact that some of the songs made the cut is perplexing. "Dear John," a slow, bluesy duet with Norah Jones, is surprisingly one of the album's weaker tracks. For all of Adams' genre jumps, one can always be certain of at least one male/female duet per album. As demonstrated with Gillian Welch on "Bartering Lines," Emmylou Harris on "Oh My Sweet Carolina," and most recently with Rachael Yamagata on "Cold Roses," these duets usually work out beautifully. Yet this moody number with the raspy-voice chanteuse sounds "off," if just because the two voices don't blend well.

There is also the occasional instance of terrible lyrics. For example, the second verse of "The End," Adams' love song to his hometown of Jacksonville, North Carolina, is curiously stuffed with words that neither fit the mood nor the structure of the song. This is surprising for Adams, who is often noted for his songwriting prolificacy.

Above all this, however, is the notion that Adams and his Cardinals seem right at home on this record. The music critic frequently chirping, "He's returned to his roots!" is right; many long-term fans are certainly breathing a sigh of relief. After all, Adams spent the first several years of his career showing that he can be a fussy rock star and sing country songs—simultaneously—fuck y'all very much. And I guess we all just hope he keeps doing it.

1. A Kiss Before I Go
2. The End
3. Hard Way to Fall
4. Dear John
5. The Hardest Part
6. Games
7. Silver Bullets
8. Peaceful Valley
9. September
10. My Heart Is Broken
11. Trains
12. PA
13. Withering Heights
14. Don't Fail Me Now

Cold Roses
Lost Highway, 2005
rating: 3/5
reviewer: leah

This 18-track monster drives home one point more than any other: Ryan Adams needs a fucking editor. For the past several years, we've been subject to a bevy of mediocre songs for every wispy brunette Adams has managed to charm into his bed. "OMG is this one about Parker? Leona?" Seriously, who gives a flying fuck anymore?

The thing about high-profile relationships is that they allow folks to remain in the public eye even when the 'talent' that got them there in the first place is allowed to slide. It'd be like if Paris Hilton became a pauper but nobody cared because she was married to Scott Stapp. Before Gold, Ryan Adams actually had to have talent, because really, who is Caitlin Cary? Add in the celebrity girlfriend, and life is all wine and pills, and suddenly it's okay to release crap like "Meadowlake Street."

That's not to say that there aren't any listenable songs on Cold Roses. "Magnolia Mountain," "Let it Ride," and the title track, for example, could almost represent a return to Adams' sincere pre-New York days, the "writing-lyrics-on-the-back-of-a-pizza-box" days. Sincerity was always part of Adams' small-town charm, and in a rare moment since Heartbreaker, it actually peeks out a bit on Cold Roses.

These exceptional tracks could be added to what could one day be a fantastic greatest songs collection for Adams because they are damn good. But, many of the other songs -- about ten or so -- leaving something to be desired, it's easy to wonder how much more esteemed Adams would be as a musician if he made himself a little more scarce.

Disc 1
1. Magnolia Mountain
2. Sweet Illusions
3. Meadowlake Street
4. When Will You Come Back Home?
5. Beautiful Sorta
6. Now That You're Gone
7. Cherry Lane
8. Mockingbirdsing
9. How Do You Keep Love Alive

Disc 2
1. Easy Plateau
2. Let It Ride
3. Rosebud
4. Cold Roses
5. If I Am a Stranger
6. Dance All Night
7. Blossom
8. Life is Beautiful
9. Friends

Love is Hell Pt. 2
Lost Highway, 2003
rating: 3.5/5
reviewer: leah

It's probably safe to say that the world has experienced a Ryan Adams overload within the past two months. With the full-length Rock n Roll and Love is Hell Pt. 1 EP being released on the same day in November, there was hardly enough time to digest them before Lost Highway released the sequel to Love is Hell. This second half is a little harder to praise than the first EP because it has a few missteps reminiscent of the infamously unlikable "Tina Toledo's Street Walkin' Blues" from 2001's Gold. Its opening is fairly strong, though; "My Blue Manhattan" is an endearing, if patronizing song to a quarreling lover, mostly dominated by quiet piano and Adams' gentle vocals.

"Please Do Not Let Me Go" would've fit wonderfully well on Heartbreaker, most securely as a replacement for one of the so-so tracks such as "To Be the One" or "Don't Ask for the Water." After the second track, though, Adams ventures through train wreck territory with "City Rain, City Streets," a song that, despite its pretty melody, features confusing lyrics amid guitars so mired in reverb that they sound sloppy and unrehearsed.

The standout track is "English Girls Approximately," Adams' third or fourth song (that we know of) written about singer/songwriter Beth Orton. Like many of Adams' best songs, this one is about a failed relationship that was unforgettable for the time it lasted. Nowhere has a more charming picture of Orton been painted: "Tall drink of water, she's a Norfolk waterfall/ Little daybreaker, she's a shootin' like a cannonball." Her leaving is represented by "a tall drink of water, just a-pourin' on down the sink" and a lover pleading with her by using different extensions of her name: "Come on Elizabeth, come on a Bethany." The songwriting style on this track is classic Ryan Adams, easily the best track on both EPs. If only the EP had ended with "English Girls Approximately," nobody would've had to experience "Hotel Chelsea Nights." If only! This closer track has a blues feel with forced, gruff vocals from Adams, and annoying backup vocals that seem more appropriate for an Aretha Franklin record.

As a full-album, Love is Hell is a lovely, drug-induced contrast to the balls-out rockers on Rock n Roll, but Pt 2 is significantly weaker on its own. The fifteen tracks together show the darker side of Adams' bi-polar tendencies, but the total effect is lost by the disjointedness.

1. My Blue Manhattan
2. Please Do Not Let Me Go
3. City Rain, City Streets
4. I See Monsters
5. English Girls Approximately
6. Thank You Louise
7. Hotel Chelsea Nights

Love is Hell Vol. 1 EP
Lost Highway, 2003
rating: 5/5
reviewer: leah

We’ll probably never understand exactly why Love is Hell wasn’t released as an album earlier this year, although we can only assume that there were problems with Lost Highway. Despite the obvious strengths of Rock N Roll as the album’s replacement, though, this eight track EP is unbeatable. Lyrically, it rivals Heartbreaker; musically, it is intricate enough to be interesting but stripped down enough to prominently showcase Adams’ voice. The vocal tracks are much smoother on some tracks, such as “Political Scientist” and “The Shadowlands,” and the vocals of “This House is not for Sale” and “Love is Hell” recall the gruffness of your favorite, well, my favorite, Whiskeytown records.

Oasis should be incredibly flattered by Adams’ smooth, unostentatious remake of their popular hit, “Wonderwall.” The cover is respectfully done with fidelity to the original, although Adams’ take is much gentler with haunting acoustic guitar and slightly echoing vocals. The piano-accompanied “Shadowlands” is the absolutely gorgeous standout track of the EP. Around three minutes into the track, the vocals fade into the encroaching drums and strings, and the result is a beautifully crafted song that seems so easy for Adams. It is not unlike “Tomorrow” from Demolition in its simplistic beauty that, as demonstrated by other singer/songwriters, is not easy to pull off successfully.

The closer, “Avalanche,” is yet another strong track on a disc full of great songs. From start to finish, this EP is gold, though not so obnoxiously titled. Once the shadow left by Rock N Roll is brushed away, a truly integral part of Adams’ catalogue will be found—not a collection of songs suitable for radio play. Songs like these make you feel like you can leave the bar after they’re over because you know there’s nothing else to miss. Songs like these make you want to fall in love all over again just for the pain you know it’ll cause you in the end. Most importantly, though, songs like these make you wonder why record companies think they know what good music is.

1. Political Scientist
2. Afraid Not Scared
3. This House Is Not for Sale
4. Love Is Hell
5. Wonderwall
6. The Shadowlands
7. World War 24
8. Avalanche

Rock N Roll
Lost Highway, 2003
rating: 4/5
reviewer: leah

Some critics have said that this is Ryan’s breakthrough album, making quips such as “We knew he could do it,” or “This is the Ryan we’ve all been waiting for.” I hate to disappoint you, my dears, but Rock N Roll is just another example of Adams making consistently good music. Given, this album evinces neither the heartbreak of, um, Heartbreaker, nor the classic radio rock feel of Gold, but the tracks are no less enjoyable to listen to. But they are different.

Fans of Ryan Adams tend to float through his obsessions along with him, as those obsessions are generally pervasive on his records. Rock N Roll is all about Adams’ guitars, and he shows off with them like he’s never done on records in the past. For example, about 2 minutes, 8 seconds into “1974,” a wickedly infective guitar melody kicks in, shifting the focus from the lyrics to the guitar. Even on more lyrically-driven tracks like “So Alive,” the guitar is mixed in so that it rivals Adams’ voice for attention rather than merely providing backup accompaniment.

This isn’t always a good thing, especially since Adams’ voice remains one of his greatest assets. Surprisingly, the only slow track is the title track, and it leaves you wanting more once its short two minutes are played out. “Anybody Wanna Take me Home” is an easy favorite with veteran fans; the lyrics, “So, I am in the twilight of my youth/ Not that I’m going to remember/ And have you seen the moon tonight,/ Is it full?” feature Adams at his songwriting best: easy but insightful, melancholy in retrospect.

Criticizing Adams for breaking his mold is ultimately problematic; his solo records have shown us better than to contain him in a genre, and recalling them in their natural progression reveals to us that there never was a mold. He’s one of few artists who seems content with not letting himself or his fans get used to a certain style before moving on to yet another.

1. This Is It
2. Shallow
3. 1974
4. Wish You Were Here
5. So Alive
6. Luminol
7. Burning Photographs
8. She's Lost Total Control
9. Note to Self: Don't Die
10. Rock N Roll
11. Anybody Wanna Take Me Home
12. Do Miss America
13. Boys
14. The Drugs Not Working

Universal, 2002
rating: 4.5/5
reviewer: leah

Surprise, surprise, folks-- Ryan Adams has a new album out. Take note, however; he isn't calling it the actual follow-up to his sophomore effort, Gold, which garnered much critical spooge upon its 2001 release. Demolition, named for the album's thirteen tracks not deemed worthy enough to appear on Gold or Heartbreaker, is an eclectic mélange from a collection of demos that Adams has been sitting on for at least a year (some more). To the listener familiar with Adams' earlier album, Demolition should, for the most part, continue to delight. One oh-so-important feature of Adams' music is that it easily satiates the desire for good plain old music in our modern day wasteland of mostly mainstream debris that is musically and lyrically about as fresh as exhaust fumes from a Ford F-350 diesel. Unlike his contemporaries, Adams has a way of mingling simplistically though strikingly image-invoking lyrics with raw melodies that stay with the mind long after the song's end. This aspect is pervasive on Demolition in the same way it was on his previous albums, maybe even more so than on Gold.

The geography of this album is vast; it ventures from radio rock, to alt-country rock, to the low-key, romantic meanderings that make every girl willing to be Adams' own pre-repentant Mary Magdalene, to the heartbreakingly sad plaintiveness of "Tomorrow". The low points of the cd are "Nuclear", "You Will Always be the Same", and "Gimme a Sign." Be comforted, however, in knowing that this album contains many more highs than lows. The gems of this cd include "Cry on Demand", "She Wants to Play Hearts", and "Chin Up, Cheer Up". Adams gets playful in the lounge room-infused "Tennessee Sucks", an ode to, no doubt, the humidity of Nashville summers in combination with an overabundance of cowboy hats. "Dear Chicago" is an amazingly true-to-life exegesis of the human heart; an ambivalent Adams falls out of love and is happy for awhile, only to be surprised by the involuntary repetition of the love/loveless cycle. The final track on Demolition, "Jesus (Don't Touch my Baby)", is a hauntingly sad melody whose meditative strains are much more characteristic of Air than Ryan Adams. We take the meaning in full, however: Adams' certainty of impending loss with a sadly futile, half-defeated plea for recovery.

Despite the genre-crossing mood swings of the songs on Demolition, Adams has shown his consistency in writing good, if not always great, songs. Hopefully, the words written for Beth Orton in "You Will Always be the Same," or at least the title, will hold true for Ryan Adams as well as they do for Orton. If what we've seen so far is any indication, I think it's plausible to assume that they will.

1. Nuclear
2. Hallelujah
3. You Will Always Be the Same
4. Desire
5. Cry on Demand
6. Starting to Hurt
7. She Wants to Play Hearts
8. Tennessee Sucks
9. Dear Chicago
10. Gimme a Sign
11. Tomorrow
12. Chin Up, Cheer Up
13. Jesus (Don't Touch My Baby)

Lost Highway, 2001
rating: 4.5/5
reviewer: ryan dombal

First thing's first: Ryan Adams is not, in any way, shape or form, associated with Bryan Adams. Ryan is a 26-year-old North Carolinian country boy; Bryan hails from Vancouver, Canada. Ryan is an up and coming roots-rock star with buzz (whatever that means) to spare; Bryan is a has-been that sings duets with today's up and coming pop stars (i.e. Sporty Spice) to stay "hip." And, if Gold is any indication, Ryan will lead a long and prosperous career that will justify current comparisons to Neil Young, while Bryan will ungracefully fade into the shallow halls of rock n' roll irrelevance. Oh wait, he already has.

Gold is a classic-rock album; nearly every aspect is derived from vintage folk/blues/rock albums of the past. Adams all but throws out the blueprint he used to define 90's alternative country with his former band, Whiskeytown, as well as his solo debut, Heartbreaker, and tears, head-first, into good ol' fashioned rock n' roll. But, instead of mindlessly duplicating his deep-rooted influences, he manages to make them fresh; instead of sounding like an early 70's b-sides collection, Gold sounds like an early 70's greatest hits album.

If Ryan Adams were a restaurant, patrons would come for the catchy hooks and lovely melodies and stay for the one-of-a-kind voice. Simply put, Adams has one of the greatest and most versatile rock voices of all time. Whether conjuring the vocal spirit of Van Morrison on "Answering Bell," doing his best Neil Young impression on "Somehow, Someday," or marking his own unique territory on "New York, New York," a poignant love letter to a battered city, Adams manages to accentuate the timeless qualities of his heroes or demonstrate his own multi-faced talents every time.

Lyrically, hopeful tales of lost loves (specifically concerning a certain Winona Ryder) dominate, typified by the heart aching "When the Stars Go Blue." But Adams can't be tied down to any one theme or genre; at the moment he is working on yet another new album with his hard rock outfit, The Pink Hearts, and plans to quickly follow that up with another alt/country masterpiece. At the moment though, Gold will more than suffice in laying down the rock-solid foundation of one of the most important artists of this generation.

1. New York, New York
2. Firecracker
3. Answering Bell
4. La Cienega Just Smiled
5. The Rescue Blues
6. Somehow, Someday
7. When the Stars Go Blue
8. Nobody Girl
9. Sylvia Plath
10. Enemy Fire
11. Gonna Make You Love Me
12. Wild Flowers
13. Harder Now That It's Over
14. Touch, Feel and Lose
15. Tina Toledo's Street Walkin Blues
16. Goodnight, Hollywood Blvd.
17. Rosalie Come and Go
18. The Fools We Are as Men
19. Sweet Black Magic
20. The Bar Is a Beautiful Place
21. Cannonball Days