Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ryan Adams, by Ryan Adams (Album of the Week)

If you filled a room with great songwriters, you might not notice Ryan Adams, but he’d be in there, crowded by Elton John and his grand piano, the 6 or 7 Bob Dylan personalities, and Kanye’s entourage.  He’d be over in the corner, trading lyrics and passing an acoustic guitar around with Joan Baez and Leonard Cohen. 

I have no idea why Ryan Adams waited for his 14th album to go eponymous, but he starts it with a song entitled “Give Me Something Good”, with the opening lyrics “I can't talk/My mind is so blank/So I'm going for a walk/I got nothing left to say.”

The lack of something to say haunts the album, until it winds up being its strength.  In the third song, a moody number named “Trouble”, he admits, “Sometimes I just got nothing else to say/I’ve been on repeat since yesterday.”  Toward the end of the album, in “I Just Might”, he contemplates fleeing a dissolving relationship:  “You make a wish, You want it to come true/But somewhere underneath all that hope/Is the truth Your prayers go unanswered./You’re waiting for the proof/Don’t know what to say/Don’t know what to do.”

Ryan Adams is not a troubadour offering answers to your questions, or your prayers.  The younger Ryan Adams offered more solace – whether it was one day being carried home to Kentucky and family in “Oh My Sweet Carolina” on Heartbreaker or even just replacing “Tears of Gold” with music and laughter on Easy Tiger. 

This album is the product of a man too wise and wizened to offer pat answers – that’s gone for him.  In Trouble, he acknowledges the toll that aging is taking – “There’s a year and a day for every line/On my face/Like a map of my sins.” 

Is it going too far to interpret “Feels Like Fire” as a portrayal of the loss of faith in bigger answers?  Is he singing of the fire of faith, as in the burning bush and the Pentecostal fire instead of some lost lover, when he sings, “You can take me anywhere/Roll us into heaven/I don’t care/Just so you know,/You’ll always be the hardest thing/I ever will let go/Driving past your church/And all the houses in a row/The feeling in my chest is fire”?

I’ll shut up about all that heavy shit now, and focus on selling this album to you, because this is not some graduate seminar on “Being and Nothingness”.  I know, it’s only rock and roll, and I like it. 

The first 20 seconds of this album ought to blow you away.  You’ve got a keyboard stringing out a high note over a crunchy guitar, and then a drum thumps onto the scene, and the bass sneaks in to add some depth.  Suddenly, you’re bobbing your head to a rhythm that is part blues, part funk, and 100% classic rock like Tom Petty or the Eagles might have used to launch “Breakdown” or “Witchy Woman”.

There’s so much more to follow.  “Kim” could come from Fleetwood Mac or Bruce Cockburn.  “Trouble” starts off with a guitar lick that Neil Young would love.  “Am I Safe” will call to mind “Horse With No Name” by America, but it’s 100 times better.  And, yes, “Be My Wrecking Ball” gives you what you wanted when you bought this album – that classic Ryan Adams sound that could have come off any of his earlier solo albums. 

Over at Deliberate Obfuscation, Robin's love of guitars shows through in her appreciation of the mastery shown on the album, but she can't get past her disturbing hatred of the Eagles, so she muddles her way to a middling review of this great album.  

For Ryan Adams to finally put his name on an album, it had to be something personal and special.  You can hear lots of other influences on this disc, but it reflects Ryan Adams standing there, with a guitar, doing his best.  And Ryan Adams, at his best, belongs in a room with the greats of all time.

Next up:  Alvvays, by Alvvays

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