Another gem from the singer-songwriter who clearly never sleeps
Opinion is split on Ryan Adams. For some, his none-more-Americana tales of doom, drink and drug-soaked romance in Springsteen-esque small towns are utterly beautiful. Others consider him an arrogant self-obsessive too in love with some mythical traditional music (and himself) to write anything of real note. On the evidence of this, his third album in seven months, the latter are fools.
Away from his band, The Cardinals, Adams has stripped most of ‘29’’s tracks down to spare, brittle bones. The title track is a rambling, electric blues, full of “Mystery pills and heroin mixed into cocaine”, while ‘Strawberry Wine’ – the first of a trio of spectacular ballads – charts a couple’s slow, sweet descent into alcoholism and despair. ‘Nightbirds’, another tale of ruinous abuse, is so fragile that Adams’ own soft, tremulous voice eventually causes it to collapse in on itself.
Of course, there are misfires too. ‘The Sadness’ is an unwanted, clattering racket and ‘Voices’ is a biblical analogy too far with unwelcome echoes of Radiohead, but it’s pushed right to the end, so, y’know, who cares? Is Adams arrogant? Possibly. But, quite honestly, wouldn’t you be?