Kicking off the album with a good-natured debate over a Morrissey song, you can tell Whiskeytown’s Ryan Adams just wants to have a good time with some friends on his solo effort Heartbreaker. The next track, “To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high)” solidifies the easygoing atmosphere with a wailing blues-guitar, tap-your-feet, clap-your-hands folk number. Midalbum, he takes a leisurely stroll through his deepest secrets (“I’m as calm as a fruit stand in New York and maybe as strange”). And then it’s on to wavering, drenched-pillow confessions: “I just wanna die without you/honey I ain’t nothing new,” he sighs in “Call Me On Your Way Back Home” and you know he means it. Before the closing tearful harmonica wail, you’re already on your way to make sure your loved ones are still where you left them.
In addition to his sometimes hearty, sometimes subtle, wring-your-heart-barren voice, Adams has the tricky ability to write songs that kidnap your senses with a cozy familiarity. And then he’ll change things up with an odd chord, vocal inflection or string arrangement you’d never think would fit. He never lets you get comfortable enough to risk boredom. And that’s a sign of a truly talented singer-songwriter.
He also doesn’t hide his influences; they’re right out there swaying in the breeze for everyone to see. There’s a splash of Beatles, a dash of Dylan and a hint of Hank Sr. Adams also is part of a fine class of musicians out right now who swirl early country and early punk into an oh-so tantalizing combo. Worthy of mention are the lovely backup vocals Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Kim Richey contribute to Heartbreaker.
Even though some may claim he’s “doing” Dylan or “doing” whoever else, they’re just not listening hard enough. He’s “doing” Ryan Adams. And that’s one fine thing to do.
Read Melissa Giannini's interview with Ryan Adams.
Melissa Giannini is the Metro Times music writer. E-mail [email protected].