Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

Written by: TL on 25/09/2014 15:42:24

With thirteen albums already behind him under his own name, North Carolina native Ryan Adams is arguably the most successfully productive name in country-rock and Americana over the last fifteen years, proving time and again that the aging styles need not equal kitsch despite what associations they might otherwise awaken in you. Thus it marks an unusually lengthy gap when it's been all of three years since the wild-haired, denim-clad, ex-Whiskeytown frontman last graced the world with an album, but then perhaps it is a result of Adams standing more firmly alone after his parting with long time collaborating band The Cardinals prior to 2011's "Ashes And Fire".

Whatever the case, self-titling the new record which came out earlier in the month seems to indicate that Adams is back with a sense of purpose, and 2014 finds "Ryan Adams" in a bluesy corner, seemingly increasingly occupied with the sound of electric guitar - An instrument that's always been close to the heart of the self-professed Alice In Chains and Iron Maiden fan, yet one that has often taken a backseat to piano and acoustic guitar in his own songs. Opening track "Gimme Something Good" is unmistakably riff-centric, quickly establishing an angular blues figure on top of some windy organ keys, and playing around it tightly for the duration while Adams vocals ring more melodiously on top, traditionally grounded in the verse and yearning in the chorus.

Alongside songs like "Trouble" and "Stay With Me", the bluesy western mood is explored in a way that reminds me of the recent Afghan Whigs record "Do To The Beast", except Adams possibly feels even more authentic and at home here with his more minimal approach. Meanwhile tracks "Am I Safe" and "My Wrecking Ball" bring the acoustic guitar back in focus, with the latter in particular standing out with a minimalistic arrangement, where a subtle backing of lingering organ notes is the only supplement to Adams' otherwise naked singing and guitar-playing. Incidentally, the drumming shines in its absence in this song, being the only clear weakness of the record overall. Likely not a point of emphasis in Adams' thinking, the percussion often has all the variety of a metronome, trodging on mindlessly in a song like "Feels Like Fire", which would otherwise be a highlight for the chiming warmth of its guitar signature.

It's the similar "Kim" however, that turns out better, partially because the drumming at least establishes a simple dynamic by not actually being there in the first verse, only coming in to boost the second, but also because the presence of the similar guitar playing is allowed to grow patiently in presence here while the vocals build the narrative. Similar qualities lift "Shadows" and "I Just Might", both of which sound like Adams has thoroughly enjoyed the simple rustle of a nicely reverberating electric guitar and both of which have more movement in terms of a progressively growing intensity. They strike a defining contrast against cuts like "Am I Safe" and "Stay With Me", in which the drumming in particular makes it feel like Adams' expert compositions have turned out just a smidge too rigid this time around - The impression being so relaxed and conventional that you feel like Adams has taken the emotions behind the songs and cut them off from himself during the process of writing, creating a distance that feels a bit cold next to the vividness and urgency of comparable material from his younger years.

Overall though, despite a couple of relatively uninspired numbers towards the end in form of "Tired Of Giving Up" and "Let Go" (which seem like a contradictive pairing), "Ryan Adams" does enough to sustain the impression of a man whose authenticity or ability are beyond questioning. While there are few risks taken, and while any vulnerability is mostly mellowed with a sense of mature coolness, there's still something unmistakable in how the tightly structured arrangements last their welcome and not a second longer. The record might not charm, touch or impress quite the way Adams has previously, or the way younger and perhaps hungrier contenders are doing at the moment (see: Ben Howard or Adams' former tour mate and support act Jason Isbell), but it still rewards any number of thorough repeat listens and deserves recognition for keeping any flaws as rather peripheral details.

Download: Kim, My Wrecking Ball, Shadows, I Just Might
For The Fans Of: Jason Isbell, The Afghan Whigs, Ben Howard, Sun Kil Moon, PJ Bond
Listen: facebook.com/ryanadams

Release date 08.09.2014
Pax AM

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