Album Review: Ryan Adams, 'Ryan Adams'

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Ryan Adams' self-titled album. (© 2014 Pax Am Records.)

September 9, 1984. Tom Petty, frustrated in the studio while mixing the song "Rebels" for his upcoming Southern Accents album, punches a wall and breaks his hand, delaying the release of his album and threatening his career. The same day, 2,608 miles away in Jacksonville, N.C., nine-year old Ryan Adams puts a copy of Petty's Damn the Torpedoes on his mom's turntable. Thirty years later to the day, Ryan Adams releases an album called Ryan Adams, built on the foundations little Ryan absorbed all those years ago.

OK, that story is totally false. Maybe.

But totally believable given the shape and trajectory of Adams' career: From alt-country with Whiskeytown to the Smiths-y new wave of Rock N Roll, the Grateful Dead- and Band-influenced work with The Cardinals, and a clutch of great singer-songwriter releases throughout his prolific career, Adams has rarely stood still. In the years since 2011's Ashes & Fire, Adams has produced albums for Fall Out Boy, Jenny Lewis, and Ethan Johns; formed a punk-rock band called Pornography,;put out records on his Pax Am label; posted a lot of social media about cats; recorded an album with producer Glyn Johns (who besides being Ethan's dad, worked with The Who, Zeppelin, Beatles, Stones, etc, and produced Ashes & Fire), scrapped that album and started over, giving us his self-titled 14th studio album (complete with bizarre promo videos starring Gary Shandling, Jeff Garlin, Bob Mould, and Elvira!).

Working with a band that includes The Heartbreakers' Benmont Tench, Candybutcher Mike Viola, along with special guests Johnny Depp and Adams' wife, Mandy Moore, Ryan Adams evokes that late '70s era when the recording of rock bands reached a sonic pinnacle unmatched in the ensuing decades. And whether it was the introduction of drum machines, MTV, or a reliance on synths and all things digital that caused the subsequent fall, there's something spacious, warm and enveloping about this music: It sounds like 1979, and that's a compliment. Mid-tempo rockers with drums that thump, basses that throb, and guitars that bob and weave around some of Adam's best melancholic songs and melodies. There's enough space in the tunes to hear the reverb cranked on the amps and the sticks hitting tom-toms. You can feel the California breeze wafting in to a late-night session under the soft glow of an analog 24-track tape machine.

"I Just Might" sounds like Springsteen's Nebraska gone electric, while you can sing Tom Petty's "Refugee" over the chord structure to part of "Trouble," and you half expect Stevie Nicks to take a verse in "Stay With Me" just like she did on "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around."

That "spot-the-influence" could be a bummer if the sound and execution of this album wasn't so spot on. How many albums these days deserve to be albums? To evoke a mood and a place in time in our lives? Ryan Adams does.

What do you think of the album? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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