Ryan Adams

styles: americana, alt country, singer/songwriter
Wilco, David Gray, Bruce Springsteen

Universal, 2002
rating: 8.5
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: 8.8
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