Whiskeytown’s Ryan Adams, enfant terrible of the alt-country world, has been dumped. And with a large nod to Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Adams wants the world to know. But unlike Dylan’s masterpiece that looked back in love and respect with “Tangled Up in Blue” or “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” Ryan looks back in anger. After listening to this work a few times, you begin to feel a certain sadness for whoever is the brunt of his attacks. From “Why Do They Leave” to “Don’t Ask for the Water” Adams paints a sorry picture of loneliness, sounding completely adrift in his loss. You almost start to feel for the guy until you come across a cut like “Come Pick Me Up,” which goes something like this: “Come pick me up/Take me out/fuck me up/steal my records/screw all my friends/they’re all full of shit/smile on your face/and then do it again”. Hope he never wants to be friends with that woman again.
This isn’t to say that the entire record is a downer – far from it. Adams – along with player/producer Ethan Johns, Gillian Welch, and David Rawlings – creates a sound that is very New York Dylan- wheezing harmonica, banjo, and guitar. Cuts such as “My Winding Wheel” and “Damn, Sam (I Love a Woman that Rains)” are as good as anything he’s ever done. “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” a duet with Emmylou Harris, is better. Ryan Adams manages the neat trick of enthusing country music with punk energy without sacrificing either. While not as “rock and roll” as his work with Whiskeytown, he proves himself a more than able song crafter. It’s unfortunate he didn’t wait six months or so – until he wasn’t so pissed off – to write the songs.
The record opens with Ryan arguing with David Rawlings about which Morrissey album contains a certain song, making this most likely the first review to ever mention Emmylou and the King of Mope in the same paragraph. Like Morrissey, Ryan Adams can pen great songs, but unfortunately, he also shares the habit of wearing his bitter heart on his sleeve. While I’m sure making this record was a cathartic experience for Ryan, it’s bile and venom overshadow the record’s good points, making for an uneasy listen. Here’s hoping that life smiles a little brighter on him the next time he wants to make a record. If that is an impossibility (and with his track record of behavior, it might be a long shot), one can hope he gains a bit of wisdom and realizes that making yourself feel better at someone else’s expense is a cruel and nasty thing. Ryan, grow the hell up. Or shut up till you do.
Bloodshot Records, 3039 W. Irving Park, Chicago, IL 60618-3538; http://www.bloodshootrecords.com/