American alt-country troubadour Ryan Adams was born on November 5, 1974, while mega-successful Canadian rocker Bryan Adams was born on November 5, 1959, exactly 15 years apart! That’s kind of weird. I mean Ryan‘s parents, back in Jacksonville, NC, couldn’t have known about Bryan, a teenager, up in Ontario, right? Anyway, I’m a big fan of Ryan (not Bryan) Adams, but, he’s a very prolific artist, and, there’s a lot to love. He recorded 3 albums, between 1995-1999, with his former band, Whiskeytown, and, 13 albums (or 15 if you consider that 2002’s Demolition is comprised of songs culled from 3 unreleased albums), between 2000-2011, as a solo artist and/or with The Cardinals. So, I thought I’d just mention a few(!) of my favorite Ryan Adams songs.
Ryan Adams once dated indie film queen Parker Posey (one of my favorite actresses!), but, in 2009, he married actress/singer, Mandy Moore. Just sayin’.
My appreciation for Ryan Adams began with his former band, Whiskeytown (with Caitlin Cary, from Cleveland, OH, on violin), and, their amazing 2nd album, Strangers Almanac (1997), which perfectly blended rock, pop and country. “Somebody Remembers the Rose”, “16 Days” and “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight” (feat. Alejandro Escovedo) are excellent country pop/rockers, while The Replacements-esque “Yesterday’s News” and “Waiting To Derail” are awesome alternative rockers. But, the soulful ballad “Everything I Do” (with Stax-styled horns), and, the heartfelt “Avenues” are my favorite tracks.
Whiskeytown‘s 1st album, Faithless Street (1995), had a bigger country influence, but, included a few gritty rockers like “If He Can’t Have You” and “Midway Park” (with guitar by Peter Buck of R.E.M.), both favorites. Country rocker “Drank Like a River”, and, the acoustic ballad “Factory Girl” [a re-issue bonus track that’s, like, the best song Neil Young never wrote!] are more favorite tracks. Pneumonia (2001; but, recorded in 1999), on the other hand, was firmly rooted in a Gram Parsons-ish country pop sound, and, included great tracks like the Dylan-esque “Ballad of Carol Lynn”, “Don’t Wanna Know Why”, “Don’t Be Sad”, “Crazy About You”, and “Easy Hearts”.
Whiskeytown eventually broke up, of course, and, Ryan Adams embarked on a solo career. His solo work is steeped, mostly, in the same alternative country sound, but, he has occasionally veered, briefly, into straight-up rock, metal, and, in 2013, punk.
Gold (2001), Ryan Adams‘ 2nd album, included the Grammy-nominated “New York, New York”, and, the often covered “When the Stars Go Blue”, but, I didn’t really begin to embrace his solo work until Demolition (2002), his 3rd solo album. The best version, by the way, of “When the Stars Go Blue” is not Ryan Adams‘ original, nor is it Tim McGraw‘s 2006 version. No, the best version of that song is the 2002 live version by Irish Celtic pop/rockers The Corrs featuring Bono (of U2).
Demolition has great tracks like the U2-esque alt-rocker “Nuclear”, the jangly R.E.M.-ish gospel-tinged “Hallelujah”, pop/rocker “Gimme A Sign”, and, the tortured “Starting To Hurt”. But, like in his former band, Ryan Adams scored with emotional ballads, and, on this album, he scored with tracks like “Cry On Demand”, “You Will Always Be the Same”, and, especially, “Desire”. I’m surprised that the latter song has not been used in films in scenes where the lovelorn guy pines over the seemingly unattainable beauty who he, in the end, wins over. Yeah, it’d be perfect for that. And, “For No One (Long and Sad Goodbye)”, from the unreleased The Suicide Handbook, is quite possibly one of the most sadly beautiful songs Ryan Adams has ever written. “It’s been a long and a sad goodbye / For hellos and handshakes to kisses and lies,” he sings, woefully.
Rock n Roll (2003) was Ryan Adams‘ straight-up rock album, and it featured appearances by Green Day‘s Billie Joe Armstrong and Hole‘s Melissa Auf der Mau as well as his then girlfriend Parker Posey (who also co-wrote the song “Note to Self: Don’t Die”). This is an excellent album, for sure, but, because of the departure from his signature alt-country sound, I usually leave these tracks off my Ryan Adams playlists. My favorite tracks are the T. Rex-esque “Shallow”, “Burning Photographs” (with its phaseshifting guitar riff), and “Do Miss America”, but, it’s a solid listen, start to finish, despite his self-indulgence.
Love Is Hell (2004) was back to business as usual. It was originally released as two EPs in 2003. Pt. 1 featured a somber cover of Oasis‘ “Wonderwall” (which was kind of a hit for him), but, Pt. 2 featured the two best tracks, both great ballads: “Hot Chelsea Nights” and “Please Do Not Let Me Go”. The latter, in particular, with its desolate acoustic chords, is another one of Adams‘ most sadly beautiful songs. “True love ain’t that hard to find / Not that either one of us will ever know / Would you lay here for a while,” he sings, then, pleads, heart-achingly, “Please do not let me go.” Absolutely beautiful.
Cold Roses (2005), a double album (but, not really), was the first, and best, with his backing band The Cardinals. “Magnolia Mountain”, with its ragged guitar work, is a good grungy rocker, while “When Will You Come Back Home”, “Now That You’re Gone” and “How Do you Keep Love Alive” are the best softer moments. But, my favorite track, by far, is “Cherry Lane”. He begins each verse with a twangy drawl, but then quickly switches to his raspy warbling, trying to read his lover like a book: “Staring into her eyes and then try and explain it / But it’s written in a language that was meant to fuck you up.” I love that!
Ryan Adams released two(!) more albums in 2005, one with The Cardinals and another solo. Jacksonville City Nights, recorded live in studio with The Cardinals, is, mostly, straight-up country. “Hard Way To Fall” and “The Hardest Part” are good tracks, but, my favorite is “Silver Bullets”, in which Adams, I think, equates his carnal desire with being cursed by lycanthrope. “Go and get the gun / Cause its only getting worse / Go and fill it up with silver bullets,” he begs. But, then, he adds: “Cause I can’t see the sun.” Maybe she should go and get a stake! 29 was the solo album, and, it’s a concept album about his 20s, one song for each year. It’s one of my least favorite albums, but, “Elizabeth, You Were Born to Play That Part” always makes it to the playlists.
Easy Tiger (2007), with The Cardinals (but uncredited), is easily my favorite Ryan Adams album, solo or with The Cardinals. “Two”, “Halloweenhead”, “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.”, “Rip Off”, “Two Hearts” and “I Taught Myself How to Grow Old” are all great tracks, but, “The Sun Also Sets” is my favorite Ryan Adams song, ever. He describes a relationship, in decline, with such aching beauty: “There it is / We are only one argument from death / There it is / The sun rises, but, the sun also sets.” And, when he snarls, in the second verse (of the album cut), “You’re gonna tear someone apart!”, I’m left wondering, “Who hurt Ryan so bad? Was it Parker?”
Watch an amazing live performance of “The Sun Also Sets” here:
My Ryan Adams playlists usually end with Easy Tiger, but, for no good reason, really. I just kind of fell into casual fan mode, after that point. But, Cardinology (2008) and III/IV (2010) are really good albums. III/IV (2010) was his 5th album released with The Cardinals. However, it was recorded in 2006, with Easy Tiger, before Cardinology (also, obviously, with The Cardinals), and it’s a double album (really), so, technically, it was the 3rd and 4th albums recorded with The Cardinals, while Cardinology was the 5th. Huh? Both, offered less self-indulgent rock that, unlike Rock N Roll, stayed true to his alt-country sound. “No”, “P.S.”, “Stop Playing With My Heart”, and “Happy Birthday” (driven by a riff that recalls Lou Reed‘s “Sweet Jane”), are favorites from III/IV; while “Go Easy”, “Fix It”, and the piano ballad “Stop” [another great track Neil Young never wrote] are favorites from Cardinology. And, his most recent solo album, Ashes & Fire (2011), is, like 29, one of my least favorites. However, “Lucky Now” is a good song, but “Do I Wait”, surprisingly, is an absolutely stunning track!
So, “there it is …” now, go make your own Ryan Adams playlist!