Review : Ryan Adams - iTunes Session
PopmattersThe sighs of relief from Ryan Adams’ fans on the release of 2011’s Ashes & Fire could’ve registered on the Richter scale. It wasn’t just that it was a great record but more they’d feared the “Alt-Country Wonderboy” (cough) had handed back his gun and Sheriff’s star and rode off into the sunset forever. After all, he’d quit the Dionysian hellraisin’ that bequeathed him outlaw infamy and, briefly, a Steve Austin bionic arm following a swandive off a Liverpool stage. He’d then broken up his band (the Cardinals) and married a Hollywood Starlet (Mandy Moore). Hell, by 2009, Adams seemed more intent on poetic musings and beard-stroking with his quill (Infinity Blues, Hello Sunshine) than melting kids’ faces with his axe. Well, except that Heavy Metal, Sci-Fi concept odyssey about feuding intergalactic reptiles (Orion). Factor in health issues – tinnitus and the hearing / balance condition Ménière’s disease – and Adams’ was surely bound to become a mythological character for campfire tall tales.
No surprise then that when Ashes finally arrived it went Top 10 in the UK and US. It had a stripped-down, back-to-basics feel, confessional and closer in tone to the great American songbook tradition and wistful melodies of solo début Heartbreaker. Those who favoured their artists eternally tortured may’ve grumbled at Adams’ renewed sense of blue-eyed optimism, but most grabbed it with both hands and hugged it like an old friend feared lost at sea. So, beat-up acoustic in tow, Adams headed out on his first, full solo tour for which iTunes Session offers a commendable, albeit waif-like souvenir. Granted these iTunes shenanigans are usually a corporate swizz to pick your pocket and run away laughing, but, given the intimate “Wait, did you hear a pin drop?” setting of Ryan and ol’ faithful (his red, yellow ‘n’ green striped Rastafari six-string), this offers something slightly more appealing. It says “Recorded at Capitol Studios, LA” on the tin, but at times it sounds like he’s playing in your front room. Best put the kettle on and lay out some sandwiches then ......full text
ConsequenceofsoundA funny thing happened while listening to Ryan Adams’s iTunes Session. I was prepared to deem it unnecessary, yet another iTunes cash grab full of neutered tunes which were much better on the studio albums they came to life on. Fortunately for Adams, he doesn’t suffer the same fate of the Wilcos of the world. If you thought he was stripped bare on Heartbreaker or even his most recent effort, Ashes & Fire, think again. This session showcases a version of Adams we haven’t heard (bootlegs notwithstanding). It’s just a man and his guitar, with the occasional, welcoming sounds of harmonica. No brushed percussion, no upright bass, no piano, no slide guitar, no Emmylou Harris or Norah Jones. Just Adams.
The sparse recording is also indicative of what it’s like to attend an Adams concert these days: courteous silence. Take the beats he plays with in “Oh My Sweet Carolina”, letting the moments breathe here and there before bursting back in with harmonica. The song is sandwiched between “Dirty Rain” and the lovely “Lucky Now”, creating a nice trilogy of solo recollections to begin the album, before Adams takes a welcomed trip to his days of Whiskeytown and roses.
“Houses on the Hill” from Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac is not only revisited, it’s rebooted. Gone are the violin, drums, and extra guitars. Even Adams’s voice sounds different. Fifteen years ago, he gave the song a vocal track that blended Springsteen drawl and Petty wailing. In 2012, it’s transformed into something known as the “Ryan Adams tenor”: that vibrato that just waltzes its way out of Adams when called upon....full text
AmericansongwriteThe usually hyper-productive Adams has been coasting recently, with only three releases in the past four years. Here he stays solo as he did on his acclaimed 2011 tour, strumming an acoustic guitar and singing like he means it. He revisits a few tunes from 2000’s Heartbreaker, one of his Whiskeytown nuggets, some from his newest release and most notably an emotionally trenchant cover of Bob Mould’s “Black Sheets of Rain.” The hushed ambiance of the immaculate recording captures every nuance. Even at only eight tunes clocking in under a half hour, this is a sincere, heartfelt and often riveting performance that might bring those who had lost the Adams map, due to his sheer glut of eclectic and sometimes lackluster material, back to the fold....full text
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