Ryan Adams self titled 14th album is further evidence that the South Carolina troubadour has not entirely managed to resolve some of the erratic quality issues which have plagued the more substance dependent phases of his career. It appears that Adams was on course to release what was essentially "Ashes & Fire Part II" an album produced by Glyn Johns that he scrapped at the eleventh hour as "too sad to release". If it is on par with the still unreleased "Suicide Handbook" then a further treat may be in store.
Instead Adams has now set forth this self produced album, which is a mix of rockers, and acoustic songs some of which are from the top drawer although a number of tracks could see him paying royalties to Tom Petty. Songs like "Stay with Me"" stand firmly in the latter category. It is ok but doesn't really advance his music from the type of workmanlike heartland rock peddled on the lacklustre "Cardinology". In the same vein "Feels like fire" is Adams on a lazy cruise control with a very standard backdrop, whilst the jury is still out on the heavy reverb chords of "I Just Might". Thankfully the single "Gimme Something Good" does improve on repeated listens. "Kim" alternatively is a belter. A medium paced rocker with a beautifully subtle song structure and excellent lyrics. Equally the two straightforward acoustic numbers remind you about why Ryan Adams is so special. "My Wrecking Ball" is the sort of heart-breaking lament with that is his trademark and will undoubtedly become a live favourite in his concert performances. Similarly the last song "Lets Go" is wondrous in its acoustic simplicity with a warm vocal by the master. Of the rockier tracks it is slow burn of "Shadows" that impresses most with Adams questioning forlornly "How long do I have here with you"? When all the elements come together in songs like the Fleetwood Mac sounding "Am I Safe" you sense that Adams might be seeking an audience well beyond the aficionado's of alt country. Whether that is the direction he should be pursuing is another matter?
In the last analysis "Ryan Adams" comes nowhere near the dizzy heights reached by past glories such as "Heartbreaker', 'Gold', "Love is Hell" and "Cold Roses". It is a largely solid performance and in many respects reminds you of his preoccupations on 2007's "Easy Tiger" an album that has a similar vibe and sits in the 7 out of 10 scoring category. It nonetheless proves definitively that Adams is on much firmer ground in his acoustic rather than rockier guise, not least since his lyrics seem to slide as soon as he plugs into amp. This self titled record is certainly no horror story like his worse album "Rock n Roll", but it is a tangential step back from the lovely "Ashes and Fire". Thus whilst Ryan Adams has ticked another box with an album harking back to the classic sounds of 70s West Coast rock his real strengths lie elsewhere.
Review by Red on Black