Ryan Adams | Heartbreaker (Bloodshot Records, 2000)

spin_ryan-adams.gifWhile most of this album is musically sparse, this is exactly the strength that Adams imbues into his songwriting.




As summer is slipping off of our skin and yielding to the soft touch of autumn, I found myself returning to an album bearing a slow and reflective mood befitting that of the season’s change. As I have stated before, music weaves its way into our lives through our ears, yes, but also in relation to our other senses and our surroundings. Songs or albums we may have heard hundreds of times before can take on a new life and new meaning because of our mood or state of being. The notes of the music haven’t changed, but we have.

So as the sun begins to disappear earlier and earlier, we slow down and pull inside a little, we take stock of ourselves and reflect inward. This seems to be exactly what Ryan Adams does with his debut album, Heartbreaker.

While most of this album is musically sparse, this is exactly the strength that Adams imbues into his songwriting. The focal point of the majority of Heartbreaker is simply acoustic guitar and Adams’ voice. Even with the richness that is added with organ, harmonica, electric guitar, banjo or backing vocals, Heartbreaker has an incredibly personal sound and feel to it which is, of course, strengthened by some very pointed first-person lyrics. When another part enters, whether it is the sublime voice of either Emmylou Harris or Gillian Welch or the guitar of David Rawlings, it gently adds depth and weight to the song all the while yielding to Adams’ subtextual statement of "I Am."

The lyrics are simple and self directed, almost as if you are sitting next to Adams on a bus, listening to him recount his failures all the while weaving through the Carolinas and Kentucky wondering if (or more likely when) the bus is going to break down. Sitting next to this stranger, you hear stories that are authentically as American as rusted chain link and busted light bulbs. This is a man who has abused and been abused, and the scars run long. He doesn’t feel at home anywhere since he’s been deserted over and over. He’s the type of man (like many of us) who has screamed profanity at the dusk for abandoning him to the point of doubling over. He’s the type (like many of us) who keeps standing back up without knowing why.

Through songs of abandonment, alienation, love lost, gambling, wandering and angst, it doesn’t seem that any of these songs are necessarily a cry for help. No, they seem to be more of an exhausted existential outpouring. The songs aren’t primal screams per se, and they don’t seem to be shouts saying, "I’m not going to take it anymore." They seem to be songs about finding oneself and finding one’s own voice again after being discarded. They are songs about the process and the necessity of turning inward after traumatic exposure, and finding that there is still something there. | Andy Powell

This article was originally published in The Times-Standard.

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