Ryan Adams

PaxAmerican Recordings, 2017

REVIEW BY: Ludwik Wodka


Shortly after Ryan Adams began to establish himself as a solo artist after leaving Whiskeytown, there was a stretch of albums where he would immerse himself into a particular style, whether it be the classic country of Jacksonville City Nights, the fey neo-folk of 29, the moody Love Is Hell, or the classic rock posturing of Rock And Roll. You never knew what was coming next; he was unpredictable and exciting. These various sounds began to blend into each other on his albums with the Cardinals, resulting in some of the finest work of his career. However, this blend was to become the sound that would pretty much define the next ten years of his recording career, which brings us to his latest release, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Prisoner. What we get is a rather “safe” recording from a famously prolific and daring artist. He plays to his strengths and does what he does best, bringing the goods for his long-time fans. 

The album opens strong with “Do You Still Love Me,” straight-ahead rock with its heart on its sleeve. He continues in this vein for the next few tracks, with the jangling guitars and harmonicas, but brings a bit of his old alt-country side back on tracks like “Haunted House” and “To Be Without You.” He oscillates between the country and rock, with songs that range between mid-tempo and slow. The musical performances on this album are sharp as ever, but not flashy, providing a perfect foil for his lyrics.

Emotional ballads are the bread and butter of the Ryan Adams catalogue, and this album is no exception. The entire album carefully traces the agony of a collapsing relationship. Its lyrics at times are full of sadness and heartache, at others with anger and frustration (“Anything I Say To You Now”). The album title spells out one of the main themes of the album, the captivity and dependency that can develop in a relationship. Conversely, Adams also plays upon when “freedom” means loss or departure, peppering the album with phrases like “fade away” and “disappear.” All of it plays like a confessional: vulnerable, uneasy, and cathartic. This gives the material its strength, and the album its focus and cohesion.

Even though he recently grabbed attention by reinterpreting an entire Taylor Swift album, there is this nagging feeling that he is playing it safe and treading water artistically. With maturity comes predictability, but it’s a good thing the songs on Prisoner are still really good.

Rating: B

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