Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

PaxAmericana/Blue Note, 2014


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Somehow I missed this one in the summer of 2014, and I wish that hadn’t been the case, because Adams’ newest studio album (and first in three years, quite a break for the prolific artist) is a moody, bluesy, heartland rock record that’s his best work in a while.

The Grammy-nominated “Gimme Something Good” kicks off the disc haze of smoke, its confident, loping rhythm belying an unsettling vocal performance and some chunky, burning guitar. “Trouble” is in the same vein but with more of an emphasis on melody instead of hormonal heat, while “Kim” features a sublimely passionate vocal performance and guitar fills that work around the stabbing snare drum, the whole package sounding yearning and quietly intense. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Trouble” and “Wrecking Ball” bring ‘80s-era Springsteen to mind in both songwriting and Adams’ singing, with hints of Tom Petty and perhaps late-period Eagles coloring the rest of the disc. But even if the music is a little more settled than past Adams records, it never stoops to audience baiting or arena/heartland rock clichés. There is a blue blaze burning through all 11 tracks, with lyrics about lost love and needing to be saved from…something.

“Shadows” is a late-disc highlight that rides on a simple, insistent snare drum, with muted guitar squalls and colorful yet singular organ tones. The song sneaks up on you and works into your soul; it’s the sort of song that Whiskeytown probably could never have recorded, or at least imbued with as much soul, back when Adams was a wild child given to the occasional tantrum. And yes, one could throw around rock and roll curse words like “maturity” and “restraint” to describe this now, but it’s not that far removed from the country flavors of Adams’ early music. Besides, restraint also can be interpreted as command and control, and Adams is firmly in control here, knowing when to flex, when to pull back, how to make the songs really breathe with meaning.

If the second half of the disc (sans “Shadows”) is a bit plodding, it’s only because the first half sets the bar high. Adams fans who prefer a certain disc may or may not be interested in this, but in its winning mix of heartfelt rock, meaningful lyrics and an intensity that comes with age and experience, Ryan Adams is a fine album.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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