Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams' Official Website!

By Patrick Gosnell

WHEN: 1994-1999 (w/Whiskeytown), 1999-2004 (solo), 2004-2009 (w/The Cardinals)

CULPRITS: David Ryan Adams (vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica, bass guitar, drums, banjo), collaborative partners too numerous to mention, but including members of the Cardinals and Whiskeytown

ALBUMS: Heartbreaker (2000); Gold (2001); Demolition (2002); Rock N Roll (2003); Love Is Hell (2004); Moroccan Role EP (2004); Cold Roses (2005); Jacksonville City Nights (2005); 29 (2005); Easy Tiger (2007); Follow the Lights EP (2007); Cardinology (2008)

HOW: I remember watching the video for “New York, New York” played repeatedly on MTV in the days following 9/11.  I’d never heard of Ryan Adams, or even Whiskeytown, so I didn’t give him much thought at the time, other than to consider the poignancy of the fact that the video was shot on September 7th, with the Twin Towers displayed proudly behind this troubadour in a blue jean jacket. It was the second single from Gold, however, that initially piqued my interest.  “Answering Bell” had such a cogent alt-country cadence, and featured remarkable harmonies from another one of my favorite frontmen, Adam Duritz … so I knew this Adams guy was doing something right! I quickly scooped up Heartbreaker from a friend, devoured it, and proceeded to purchase every subsequent album on the day of its release. (I know. “Nerd.”) I was finally able to see Ryan live for the first time in late 2004, when he played a few “comeback” shows following his wrist injury from earlier that year. He had trouble getting through some of his songs (and was definitely awash in booze and painkillers), but it was certainly an enthralling show. After a near two-hour set at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, Georgia, he kicked the band off the stage and proceeded to tell the audience that he was going to play some songs he’d been working on during his recovery … people could stay or leave (he didn’t care) … but he was going to play them all through, no matter how long it took. For those unfortunate few who retired to an early night, they missed the seeds of what was to come in 2005 (count ’em, 3 albums!), some extremely colorful stage banter, and a truly generous performance by one of the most prolific and talented songwriters of the last decade.

“Answering Bell” from Gold

WHY: There have been plenty of reviews over the years calling Ryan Adams everything from a prolific poet-genius to a whiny over-hyped provocateur. I’m going to agree with both of those terms. Sure, he has been known to be a little “touchy” on stage. I quickly learned that a real Ryan Adams show is not complete without some snide remarks made to the audience, or the occasional temper tantrum. In fact, when he walked off the stage at an Atlanta show last year after only playing nine songs, I was one of the few attendees that came to the show fully prepared for that possibility! But I say let’s cut the guy some slack! What other artist has churned out ten albums (and then some) in the last ten years? and full of mostly high-quality material?? Ryan is one of those true artists who doesn’t go a day without writing a new song. And yes, with such an accelerated production schedule, there are bound to be a few duds and indulgences (for example, the droning, 7-minute “Jesus, Don’t Touch My Baby,” titles like “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.,” yelling “Guitar Solo!” in the middle of “Halloweenhead“). But when a songwriter is also capable of penning an “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” or a “Dear John” or “Firecracker,” then I fail to see how anyone can’t recognize the talent, inspiration and value of such an artist. Yes, I will take the bad with the good, because the good from Ryan Adams is spectacular!

“Oh My Sweet Carolina” from Heartbreaker

SONGS: I have grouped Ryan’s songs into three distinct categories.  First, what I believe he is most well known for, his spunky brand of alt-country. I always like to start where the artists themselves began, and “To Be Young” is a perfect first taste if you’re new to Adams’ music. The plucky “Answering Bell” provides a mellow segue into two upbeat numbers, “Chin Up, Cheer Up” and “Firecracker.” The next four songs showcase Ryan’s later work with the Cardinals, and include the heartfelt ballad “Two,” and a re-worked version of “This Is It” (originally on the Rock N Roll album).

“This Is It” from Follow The Lights

The middle third of the mix contains some of Ryan’s more raucous and rambunctious numbers — songs that I think critics and fans tend to overlook or call “forced” but I think that’s merely a side-effect of his other writing styles being so bang-up brilliant! His knack for poetic storytelling shows up strong in “This House Is Not For Sale,” and Ryan cranks out the loud for “1974” and “I’m Coming Over.” I have included “Life Is Beautiful” because it shows off Ryan’s musical prowess, as he played every instrument on the track.

“Life Is Beautiful” from Cold Roses

For the final third of the mix, I’ve selected a few of Ryan’s best ballads, which I believe are his strongest songs. The first few piercing notes from Ryan’s harmonica on “I Taught Myself How To Grow Old” draw you in like a far-off porch light to a weary traveler. The partnership between Adams and Norah Jones on “Dear John” wrap you in a soulful blanket of soothing sound, and when the drums finally kick in at the end of “Please Do Not Let Me Go” has to be one of my favorite musical moments from any Ryan Adams record! The mix closes with three slow burners, which are (at least I believe they are) three of the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful songs written in the last decade: “La Cienega Just Smiled,” “Elizabeth, You Were Born To Play That Part,” and “Oh My Sweet Carolina” (his arresting duet with Emmylou Harris). If you do nothing else with this playlist, please, I beg you, just download these last three songs, wait until you’re driving home after dark, and just listen. If the instrumental melody at the end of “Elizabeth…” doesn’t get you, then I don’t know what will.

“Elizabeth, You Were Born To Play That Part” from 29

WHAT’S MISSING: There are, of course, many other outstanding songs that just could not fit into the 80-minute time limit. Some that just barely missed making my final cut include: “Dance All Night,” “Nuclear,” “Sylvia Plath” (a personal favorite), “My Blue Manhattan,” “Come Pick Me Up,” “Call Me On Your Way Back Home,” “Crossed Out Name,” “Friends,” “Lost and Found,” “Starlite Diner” (a great storytelling song!), “Let It Ride,” and “The Shadowlands.” I think this list is certainly a great place to become acquainted with the many distinct styles that Ryan has to offer, but if you like what you hear, please check out any of his full-length albums — you really can’t go wrong!  Just know that each record has a well-defined sound and style, so if you don’t particularly care for one, I’m sure there is another that will suit your tastes perfectly.

LINK: Click on the list below to see the 80MFL iMix, where you can listen to samples, download what sounds good, or get the whole thing!

Click on the list to hear the RYAN ADAMS iMix


Patrick Gosnell is co-founder and chief designer for 80 Minutes For Life. He spends his days practicing photography, listening to music constantly, and spending way too much time reading design blogs. He and his wife, Karen, enjoy completing puzzles, watching Community, and eating Thai food with close friends.  You can check out his portfolio here.

~ by Patrick Gosnell on November 2, 2009.

2 Responses to “Ryan Adams”

  1. Nicely done! Glad you did him justice with this post.

  2. I know this is supposed to be a list that introduces people to the artist so it’s hard to argue with you, but not one song from Ryan’s Whiskeytown days? For fans of Ryan’s alt-country style from the album Jacksonville City Nights (great inclusion of “A Kiss Before I Go” by the way), check out “Easy Hearts,” “16 Days,” and “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart” by Whiskeytown. You won’t regret it.

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