I have been carrying on an unrequited love affair with Ryan Adams for many years now. It all started in 2003 when I was listening to a Beth Orton song, ‘Concrete Sky’. I found myself focussing on the voice supporting her. It was a voice I wanted to climb into, the perfect foil to Beth Orton’s quirky Londontown sound.
The track is here if you’d like to listen to it (try and hang in there until the 2min, 33 mark):
After some solid research studying the CD cover, I discovered it was Ryan Adams, an alt-country musician from North Carolina. After this revelation I listened intently to the albums he’d released: ‘Heartbreaker‘, ‘Gold’, ‘Demolition’, ‘Rock N Roll’, ‘Love Is Hell’ and Cold Roses‘ (the latter recorded with the band, The Cardinals’). I went to his concerts, bought bucketloads of merch and contributed to an online fan site where I could share the love (with a user name ‘Black River’ pilfered from a line from one of his songs – ‘she runs through my veins like a long black river’).
It’s fair to say that, over the years, I’ve had my ups and downs with Ryan. It hasn’t been a placid or easy-going one-sided relationship. I’ve been there for him during his cocaine and heroin binges, his rants and outbursts at critics, his relentless alcohol abuse and, lately, missing him due to Menieres disease. And, even after an eternity spent listening to his albums, there are still tracks that don’t move me or that I simply don’t get. But, for every one of those tracks, there are many that are, to use a hackneyed but befitting cliché, achingly beautiful. Ryan is infamously inconsistent and I think that’s part of what I love about his music – the bad with the good, the strange with the brilliant. Here’s one of my favourites from ‘Demolition’ called ‘Dear Chicago’. Essentially Ryan’s music is lyric-driven and, as a clue to the lyrics in this track, he appears to refer to the women in, or out of, his life with place-names:
A new Ryan Adams release for me is akin to a box of chocolates with the odd chemically-tinged creme de menthe or sticky orange cream imposter lurking amongst the luscious offerings. Take the album ’29’ for instance – nine tracks, each one representing a year in his twenties. I can understand why it’s inconsistent (my twenties were erratic to say the least) but, to my ear, there are seven poetic, melancholic, stripped-back songs, and two that I feel don’t fit with the others – the bluesy ’29’ (complete with Grateful Dead influences) and cowboy ostentatious rocker ‘The Sadness’. However, it’s still a roller-coaster ride of a release and Ryan’s skill as a story-teller are aptly displayed:
All in all Ryan has released 13 studio albums (add ‘Jacksonville City Nights‘, ’29’, ‘Easy Tiger’, ‘Cardinology’, ‘Orion’, ‘III/IV’ and ‘Ashes & Fire‘ to the list). The three that stand out for me are: ‘Jacksonville City Nights’ – a country-tinged collection, ’29’ and his first album, ‘Heartbreaker’ which is on my top ten list of albums and it will stay there. ‘Heartbreaker’ emerged out of the ashes of a broken relationship and, with mournful backing vocals provided by Emmylou Harris, it is indeed heart-breaking. If you could own one Ryan Adams album this should be it (although I’m sure there will be plenty of people who disagree with me). If you prefer your music to be a bit more upbeat and rocky, give ‘Cold Roses’ a whirl. Here’s a track from ‘Heartbreaker’ called ‘Come Pick Me Up’:
And another,’Oh My Sweet Carolina”
It’s been a ride Ryan. I’m looking forward to your next flawed masterpiece.
A comment – I’ve shared these songs via Spotify. If you have trouble listening to them, try these: