Ryan Adams, along with Nick Cave, is just about the only musician whose new releases I bother with these days. I know what I like, alright?!
Anyway, here’s a quick round-up of his solo career. I don’t know a lot about his previous existence in the band Whiskeytown, other than that they were meant to be great.
His first solo effort was Heartbreaker (2000), a gloriously pared-down alt.country masterpiece, detailing the break-up of a relationship with remarkable honesty and great tunes. Still considered by many his best album. Standout tracks: Oh My Sweet Carolina and To Be Young.
Next up was Gold (2001), a rip-roaring Stones inspired rawk record, with some touching quiet bits too. Best heard with the extra CD, with 5 songs on it that Adams wanted on the original cut. This was the start of a continual battle between Adams and his label, Lost Highway, over his prolific-ness. A good introduction for those who aren’t sure whether they like country music. Standout tracks: New York, New York and The Bar is a Beautiful Place.
Adams then recorded four albums, all of which he wanted to release after Gold. Lost Highway wouldn’t let him, but did release a compilation of some of the highlights of these records called Demolition (2002). It’s a bit of a mish mash, as each record was very different in tone. Still, there are some good tracks on here. Standout tracks: Nuclear and Dear Chicago.
Rock ‘N’ Roll was his first album of 2003, and was made because Lost Highway wanted another Gold-alike up tempo record, and Adams had produced the downbeat Love is Hell instead. So, he recorded Rock ‘N’ Roll in very little time, as a loud, brash rock record, which was essentially a pastiche of ’80s rock in general and U2 in particular. Pretty empty, though there are a couple of good stomping songs on there. Standout tracks: So Alive and Hypnotixed.
In the end, Lost Highway did release Love is Hell, as the critical reaction to Rock ‘N’ Roll wasn’t so great. They released it as 2 EPs (2003) within a couple of weeks of each other and subsequently as a single album (2004) – which doesn’t include all of the tracks on the UK edition EPs. As with all of Adams’ records, he likes you to have as many songs as possible, so these are the versions to go for. Includes his remarkable, haunting cover of Wonderwall and is a highly atmospheric, melancholy account of the trials and tribulations of relationships. Cracking stuff. Standout tracks: Wonderwall and English Girls Approximately.
No ‘new’ album during 2004, but that was made up for when Adams released 3 albums in 2005, including the first Cold Roses which was a double album. The first to be recorded with his new backing band, The Cardinals, this album marked a return to the countryfied material of Heartbreaker, where Adams is clearly most comfortable. As with many double albums, this would have been a fantastic album if it had been edited down to (say) 12 songs rather than 21. Still, it’s strong stuff. Standout tracks: Meadowlake Street and Let It Ride.
Second in 2005 was Jacksonville City Nights which was recorded live in the studio, without any overdubs. Again with the Cardinals, it is another strongly country influenced record, even more so than Cold Roses. If you don’t like pedal steel guitar, you won’t like this album much. But for the likes of me, it’s great. The real highlight is a stonkingly good cover of Always On My Mind. Standout tracks: Hard Way to Fall and Always On My Mind.
The last record of 2005 is 29, which I have only played a couple of times and I assume it is a grower. A very introverted record, played without the Cardinals and a return to the darker stuff on Love is Hell, the idea is that there is a song for each year of Adams’ 20s. There are 9 songs on 29. Erm, stick to the music, Ryan, and leave the maths to others. Anyway, haven’t had a chance to formulate a judgement on this yet, but will return with my brilliant opinions at some other point. Standout tracks: Who knows?
So, if you take the two standout songs from each album, you can make your very own Dave’s Best of Ryan Adams Thus Far (Excluding 29) with the following track listing:
1 Oh My Sweet Carolina
2 To Be Young
3 New York, New York
4 The Bar is a Beautiful Place
6 Dear Chicago
7 So Alive
10 English Girls Approximately
11 Meadowlake Street
12 Let It Ride
13 Hard Way to Fall
14 Always On My Mind
Originally posted on Palimpsest.