Last Spring I saw Ryan Adams perform a set of new songs that would become his new record Heartbreaker. In front of a cold, wet crowd in Austin, Texas, Adams played one of the most powerful sets I’ve ever heard. For 45 minutes Adams made me forget I was shivering on a muddy patch of Texas in the rain, and made me remember why I loved music. Heartbreaker lives up his auspicious live set and delivers one of the year’s best albums.
Riding a musical river that flows from The Carter Family and Woody Guthrie through The Band and Dylan, Adams conjures the magical mix of country longing and rock ‘n’ roll attitude of Beggar’s Banquet-era Stones. Many of the songs feel like wonderful outtakes from classic albums like Dylan’s Highway 61 or The Band’s Songs from the Big Pink. Produced by Ethan Johns (son of legendary producer Glyn Johns — Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street) the disc has an organic feel that sounds like the band is jamming in your living room. The CD kicks off with (after a 37 second argument about Morrisey?!) with “To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high)” which rolicks and rolls with an exuberant infectious toe-tapping energy. This is one of the few full-on rockers herein, as Adams prefers to inhabit the land of the broken and lonely hearted souls.
Adams’ wears his influences close to the vest and they read like a who’s who of the greatest pop/rock/country/folk songwriters: Dylan — “My Winding Wheel”, Gram Parson — “Sweet Carolina” (which features Emmylou Harris on vocals), Nick Drake — “Amy”, Dan Penn — “Damn, Sam” (I love a woman that rains). It’s not to say that Adams is simply mimicking his heros, his style is reminiscent, but wholly his own. Perhaps his best song is the powerful “Come Pick Me Up”, a cynical breakup song in which Adams sings “Come pick me up / Take me out / Fuck me up / Steal my records / Screw all my friends / They’re all full of shit / With a smile on your face / Then do it again.” Heartbreaker boasts guest appearances by Emmylou Harris, Kim Ritchie and Gillian Welch is a clear sign that Adams is well on his way to becoming a songwriter’s songwriter.