Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Not too long ago Little Sis visited and arrived with a whole bunch of tunes. At some point she asked if I had any Ryan Adams to which I responded: "Bryan Adams? I haven't listened to anything by him since I was in high school and Cuts Like a Knife was all the rage." Little Sis patiently points out: "Ryan. Not Bryan." Me: "Oh. . . . um, no."

So she drops Heartbreaker on me along with a double Cardinals' disc Live from Ludwigshafen, Germany pointing out that she really liked Whiskeytown, Ryan's earlier band. I pop in Heartbreaker and am immediately impressed with the songwriting and mix of song styles--country, folk, rock--and the folks who show up on the album--Emmylou Harris, David Rawlings, Gillian Welch (I often pay attention to who folks associate with as a test of their music, movies, books, etc.). And so the exploration begins (albeit ridiculously late).

Then I start this blog and I am listening to a lot of Ryan and thinking about a post on his music and I run into Payton's Place where there is more info about Adam's than I can ever imagine covering (and anyone who is a Ryan fan should check out). Consequently, I continued to put off this post since, well, what more is there to say? However, given my new commitment to the Tuning Room and the fact that (Ryan and) The Cardinals are about to release a new album in the next month, I thought it was time to put a marker down.

So here are a few thoughts on the few albums I have just in case you haven't started weaving your way through the huge Ryan Adams discography--I offer them in the order I experienced them rather than chronologically and try to focus on a few aspects of Adams' music that I find interesting.

As I noted, Heartbreaker was the first album of Ryan's I heard (by chance, it is also his first solo effort). It has a great mix of tunes and styles, but the strength of the album is that it is, in fact, an album that holds together really well. There are a number of great tracks here and perhaps my favorite is "Come Pick Me Up." But one aspect of Ryan's music I want to highlight is the fact that he has some real rockin--one might even say kickin'--tunes and one of my favorite is on this album. So here is that highlight from his first solo effort.

Shakedown on 9th Street

Given Little Sis' recommendation, I then decided to go back in time to Whiskeytown and picked up Strangers Almanac which is still perhaps my favorite of all the offerings here. It has a host of great tunes with all kinds of great lyrical hooks (Excuse Me, While I Break My Own Heart comes to mind). It is a true alt-country album. Here again, my favorite on the album might not be the track I offer up here (I love the bluesy "Everything I Do") but the opening track "Inn Country" is a great example of Adams' country writing that really shows up on this album (and I should note is superior to the "country" tunes on Faithless Street--see below--where Ryan wasn't doing as much of the writing as on this effort).

Inn Town

Given my overwhelmingly positive reaction to Strangers Almanac, I then went on to purchase Faithless Street which actually preceded Strangers and by the time I bought it had already been re-engineered and re-released with all kinds of bonus tracks. Have to say that I am glad I didn't start here. The opening track which I feature here really exemplifies their (and his) sound at this time and I think is a great track. However, I could do without much of the middle of this album which feels like someone trying to fit into a certain genre--just a bit too much whiskey, my kin-folk, and we're a country band orientation for me. Some of the extra tracks are better on the other albums that they appeared, but the "baseball park session" tracks are quite nice. If I were burning this one for you I would cut this album in half for you. Here is the opener though, which I think is really solid.

Midway Park

Still, I was quite enamored and ventured on. The next purchase was Demolition which really re-engergized my enthusiasm. This album, like Strangers has a great mix of tunes and styles that are really well ordered. It also has some great lyrical hooks such as "Cry on Demand" and "She Wants to Play Hearts." But here, I give you "Dear Chicago" which exemplifies another genre Ryan has down: the "twisted and torn and I'm the problem" love song in a wonderful accoustic setting. It has that feeling of someone just sitting down and telling his story with a guitar, and well, it makes ya weep.

Dear Chicago

And finally, I picked up Cold Roses, a double disc effort from Ryan and the Cardinals that is simply a wonderful set of tunes, although I imagine some might find it less adventursome and a bit more mainstream (for Ryan and the boys). Whatever. This is a stellar collection of absolutely great songs that are just a joy to listen to. Many have commented on the great production, which is hard to argue (and others are happy to note that the production of the upcoming album involve similar folks). There are so many great tracks to pick from these discs, but I am going with "Easy Plateau" which I think is pretty representative.

Easy Plateau

And so I must end by saying: "thanks Little Sis, I owe ya." And come October, we will be talking about Cardinology here at the TR for sure.


Payton said...

All right... i have an ally. sometimes i feel like a lot of people (bloggers esp) respect Ryan for his songwriting, prolificacy, etc. but don't really consider themselves fans. Glad to know there's one more obsessed fan out there - with his own soapbox to yell from to boot.

My introduction to Ryan wasn't too different from yours - somewhere in the middle of his career. i immediately knew i was in the presence of something great, and have been hooked since.

One question... are these the only albums you've heard (and by heard i mean really heard)? If so, Jacksonville City Nights must be next. It's crazy to think it was recorded so near Cold Roses and with the same lineup, but sounds soo different. It's what country music should sound like.

i've said at my place before - i may harp on Ryan a little much, but if any of my other favorites were to pump out as much music as him, they'd get comparable attention.

nice post.

CPS said...

yup, definitely a fan (and I know quite a few others as well)--but you deserve free tickets to their shows as part of their pre-event team!

JCN is definitely on my list, mainly because of your writing and connecting it to the folks responsible for CR. We will see if that makes it into the collection pre-Cardinology. Thanks Payton.