Ryan Adams’ returns for his first gig in Liverpool since 2006, Getintothis’ Neal McGrath runs through the troubadours solo career and picks his ten finest tracks.
Ryan Adams first burst onto the music scene in the mid-nineties as part of Country-rock band Whiskeytown. Thrown in with America’s burgeoning alt-country scene, they were heralded as the movements Nirvana, with Adams’ emotive vocals and songwriting ability soon attracting plaudits in the music press.
His solo career fared even better, 2000’s Heartbreaker was a near flawless collection of hushed folk songs, whilst its big selling follow-up Gold, owed more to classic rock than folk, propelling Adam’s to brink of stardom.
Naturally prolific, he moved at a furious pace. His record company couldn’t (or wouldn’t) keep up with him. Shelved albums matching (and in some cases, surpassing) the quality of the records that made it into the shops began to stack up, meaning the true breadth of Ryan’s songwriting remained unknown to the record buying public.
It was only a matter of time before people started to take interest in the man behind the music and Ryan did not disappoint. Onstage he could charming and funny or petulant and combative. Never has a man dealt with hecklers so badly. Offstage tales of Vodka, speedballs and perhaps most worryingly, an unhealthy obsession with Metal music, reached the ears of his fans.
Now clean, sober and pulling out some of his finest live performances, the time is ripe to revisit his darker days and reveal the top 10 songs of Ryan Adams’ solo career…….
10.Come Pick Me Up: Heartbreaker (2000)
It’s the man’s anthem, his Freebird, listen to drunken idiots shout it across the concert hall in lairy desperation. The first time you hear it, you laugh out loud, the second time you hear it, it breaks your heart, every time you hear it you sing along to the chorus…..
9.I See Monsters: Love Is Hell (2003)
Love Is Hell was originally turned down by his record company for not being commercially viable. Adams’ raced back into the studio and in two weeks knocked off a fun, uptempo set of throwaway rock songs. Using the slight Rock N Roll as his bargaining chip he persuaded Lost Highway to release Love Is Hell as two separate E.P’s. Ryan’s refusal to allow Love is Hell become another one of his shelved albums spoke volumes in the confidence he had in the material. And this, the hushed, beautiful ode to his own insomnia was one of it’s finest tracks.
8.The End: Jacksonville City Nights (2005)
Jacksonville, Ryan’s birthplace has featured prominently in several of his songs not least this, a harrowing country-fried number from the second of three albums Ryan would release in 2005. He sounds absolutely at the end of his tether, a scorching vocal obviously more concerned with conveying his pain than hitting perfect notes. The lyrics are fascinating and enigmatic and as an opening gambit “I don’t know the sound of my fathers voice, I don’t even know how he says my name”, we don’t think he penned anything finer.
7.Let It Ride: Cold Roses (2005)
Let It Ride is a rollicking country-rock number from a sprawling double album. The song, like the lyrics, move like the fog on the Cumberland river, eerie pedal steel, twanging guitar and impassioned vocals combine to lift the song to instant classic status.
6.Sweet Illusions: Cold Roses (2005)
Also from Cold Roses, Sweet Illusions mirrors Let It Ride’s shimmering pedal steel and twanging guitar, reminiscent of the American Beauty era Grateful Dead of which Adam’s was so enamoured. Here it is slowed down, the lyrics dealing with one of his favourite subjects-a failing relationship. Each line finds it’s mark and the vocal takes the kill as he scream’s “an I ain’t got nothing but love for you now”.
5.To Be Young (Is To Be sad,Is Too Be High): Heartbreaker (2000)
Ryan channels Dylan’s 66’ period as he produces a slice of irresistible, good time rock ‘n’roll. What do we do when we’re sad and young? Yup, you guessed it-we get high. Special mention to that gorgeous bridge.
4. Angelina: 48 Hours (2001)
48 Hours was one of Ryan’s several unreleased albums – so named because that’s exactly how long it took to record it. Packed full of country-rock goodness Angelina is one of the highlights, a rocker with fervent blasts of harmonica and whiskey-soaked vocals.
3.Please Do Not Let Me Go: Love Is Hell (2003)
Blending one of Adams’ finest lyrics with one of his most understated melodies. It’s in turn languid, sly, witty and utterly, utterly beautiful. Hear him subtly wring the emotion out of each word, virtually every line stands out and before you know it, that gorgeous piano melody appears in the coda and lifts us all to the end of the song.
2.Karina: 48 Hours (2001)
What kind world do we live in where One Direction get on the radio and songs like these don’t even get released? Slow building from a dylanesque drawl, the songs climbs higher with an appearance of mandolin and a chorus to send shivers down your spine. A masterpiece of restraint.
1. Oh My Sweet Carolina: Heartbreaker (2000)
An anthemic folk song, a tribute to his home state, it’s the closest he’s come to writing that perfect song. It’s brilliance lies in its timelessness. It could have easily come from the boards of the Grand Ole Opry, across the field at Woodstock or from the mouth of a tousled haired troubadour in the early part of the 21st century. Plus Emmylou Harris is on backing vocals-how cool is that?