As I sit here enjoying a glass of one of my favorite beers, I am for one of the first times in my life listening to Ryan Adams’ album Gold. Apparently, this is one of a handful of albums Adams has put out on his own or been a part of that has been lauded as a classic series of songs. As I make my way through the tracklisting, I’m starting to see why.
I had been aware of Ryan Adams for a while, but I had never given his music a chance. The idea of a solo artist has never felt especially appealing to me – I think it’s just the fact that bands hold more mystique for me. The group dynamics, the idea of brotherhood and camaraderie contributing to a musical career, the inspiring journey from being a little known group to a band that’s on top of the world (in some cases)… these ideas were always easier for me to associate with bands than solo artists. But Ryan Adams is forcing me to hold him in the same regard as some of my favorite bands.
The first of his albums I listened to wasn’t exactly his – not in the sense that he actually wrote the songs anyway. My first exposure to his talent was his cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album, and man was I impressed. I really love his cover of “Welcome to New York” and think that several of the other songs on the album are better than their original versions (“Wildest Dreams” and “Bad Blood” being two of my other favorites).
I especially like what he does with songs like “All You Had to Do Was Stay” and “I Wish You Would,” which in their original forms are quite dancy numbers. He takes them from the beat-centric, synth-oriented, sonic toe-tappers that they were to a much more stripped-down, raw place. The emotion carried in his voice, the simple sound of guitar, bass, and drums that somehow still managing to create a wall of sound – it all adds a totally different feel to songs that originally had a very polished pop feel.
Adams digs into the emotional tone of these songs and, like with most of his version of the album, channels his inner Springsteen to create versions of this music that truly feel like something different. I remember reading an article about this album when it first came out with a quote from Adams that basically said if the songs hadn’t felt like his own, he wouldn’t have recorded the album. I think the sound of this album uses the source material as a starting point, and then expands upon it in a way that makes it certifiably original.
Top Ryan Adams Songs from “1989”:
- Welcome to New York
- All You Had to Do Was Stay
- Bad Blood
- Wildest Dreams
While I had been rather content knowing Adams only from his cover of Taylor Swift songs, I eventually saw that he’d been featured on one of my favorite podcasts, WTF with Marc Maron. For me, the interview sparked an interest in his other material, and when I’d heard that he’d been in an alt-country band before embarking on a solo career, I decided that the album Strangers Almanac was something I needed to hear (very highly Maron-recommended, and rightfully so).
What Adams’ former band Whiskeytown brings to the table on Strangers Almanac (their second full-length) is a 90’s alternative songwriting sensibility combined with and showcased within classic country sounds. Violins, twangy guitars, piano – it all here. The album has been called alt-country, and I think that’s an accurate title. While I genuinely appreciate the sound, it’s the songwriting that really makes this album stand out. Catchy numbers like “Yesterday’s News” and “Somebody Remembers the Rose” are two of my favorites.
Top Songs from “Strangers Almanac”
- Yesterday’s News
- 16 Days
- Houses on the Hill
- Waiting to Derail
- Somebody Remembers the Rose
In summary, from his cover of Taylor Swift’s “1989” album to his work with 90’s alt-country legend Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams is impressive, through-and-through. His song “New York, New York,” is a must-listen-to, but don’t be afraid to look a little deeper at his catalog. Most things I’ve listened to that he’s been a part of are absolute gold, and I would highly recommend you take a listen to the music he’s made.
Beer Credits (What I’m Drinking):
- Ass Clown’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Stout
- Saranac Brewing’s Cold Brew Coffee Lager
Have a favorite Ryan Adams song or album? Let’s talk about it! Leave a comment below!