Monday, October 03, 2005

Good Enough, Mr. Adams

I first fell in love with Ryan Adam’s music when I heard his first solo album, Heartbreaker. It was immediately on the top of my playlist. It was one of those perfect albums that makes you wish you could create something worthwhile. From the jubilant barn-burner "To Be Young" to the painful "AMY," it was a masterpiece.

And ever since then I have eagerly looked forward to each new release from Mr. Adams, only to be disappointed. Maybe it was the thrill of the first exposure to his music, but everything since pales in comparison. And maybe that isn’t fair. Does previous greatness, invalidate future accomplishment? How do you transcend a masterwork?

Gold was a decent but middling follow-up; a little too Van Morrison by way of the Counting Crows. Demolition was nothing more than it was billed: a hastily assembled collection of songs from various recording sessions. Love Is Hell was a little too morose, and Rock n’ Roll was a little too trite. Cold Roses was okay, especially if you like Working Man’s Dead/American Beauty-era Grateful Dead. All of these releases have their moments, but generally they seem a bit overproduced and a little too earnest. I wouldn’t be the first person to say Adams has spent too much time reading his own press.

But that being said, the advance press regarding Jacksonville City Nights was eager, enthusiastic and encouraging. It was called a return to form (whatever that means) and a sign of progress from an artist who had seemed to be floundering for the last few years. So, once again, I eagerly anticipated this new album, looking forward to that first flush, that giddy revelatory moment.

And once again, I got a halfway decent album from a musician I once had the highest hopes for. Now, this isn’t to say Jacksonville isn’t a good album: it is. It is better than 99% of the crap on country radio. Better than most of Mr. Adams output. Stand out cuts include the upbeat "The Hardest Part" and the swinging "My Heart Is Broken" and "Trains." The honky-tonk opener "A Kiss Before I Go" is balanced well by the closing "Don’t Fail Me Now," a funeral dirge that would have fit nicely on The Boatman’s Call by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

A lot of attention will be paid to "Dear John," a mournful duet with Norah Jones, but ultimately this may be the weakest link on the album. "September" is a much stronger ballad and a stronger performance, and not much else on the album can compare with the naked vulnerability of "Silver Bullets."

Ultimately, it is a good record and maybe that is what I need to reconcile myself to: good can be good enough.

And this is what is good enough for my iPod:

1. "She Fell Away" by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
2. "Again the Waterloo" by Go Back Snowball
3. "Dizzy Miss Lizzie" by the Beatles
4. "Pendulum" by Guided By Voices
5. "Swallow My Pride" by Soundgarden
6. "Rudderless" by the Lemonheads
7. "Act Naturally" by the Beatles
8. "This Is A Call" by the Foo Fighters
9. "At the Farms" by Guided By Voices
10. "The Rain Won’t Help You When It’s Over" by Whiskeytown


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