On Wednesday 7th of December, alt-country singer/songwriter Ryan Adams did the unthinkable only a few years ago and gave away a full front-to-back rendition of Bruce Springsteen‘s revered 1982 classic Nebraska, making this collection of covers his fifth official studio album release in the current solar year. While rewriting musical history by way of re-dressing a set of original songs via his trademark guises is nothing inherently new for the PaxAm label owner—he successfully and fiercely charted said territory the first time eight years ago with Taylor Swift’s 1989—issuing five distinct projects in less than seven calendar months is something unparalleled and unprecedented even for a prolific author such as himself. Yet don’t get it twisted; less than standing as desperate industrious attempts at morphing into the present day media landscape’s content output expectations, the 10-track ode to one of Adams’s most evident influences is but an expression of endurance.
Progress through action and creation—the form and pacing of the 48-year old Jacksonville, NC-native’s musical portfolio growth of late can’t pretend it’s hiding behind a necessity of unabashed fast-forwardness. This might be where the rubber meets the road: since his comeback unplugged oeuvre Wednesdays in December 2020, the former Whiskeytowner has released seven LPs. That’s a number as big as his worshipped feline household companion’s purported lives, for comparison’s sake. While it’s true that the buck has to stop somewhere, if there is anything that the past twelve months have taught legions of DRA disciples, is that a storyteller as gifted and impervious as Ryan Adams can only survive as a relentless musical empresario. So much for having additional out-of-the-box records in the can, ready to be unveiled in 2022 as originally announced in the lead up to his summer album FM.
Truly and honestly, we can’t say he did not warn us. There were a slew of presages worked into this past years’ tea leaves pointing to some resemblance of boundless creative manifestation, acting as some sort of be-all and end-all for the heartland rocker. A higher faith of sorts to devote one’s self to. With the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight, one could easily point at his recurrent generous live impromptu sessions on Instagram, the engrossing runtimes and setlists of his more recent three-hour long solo acoustic shows, or even the trickery surrounding an alternate Boss-indebted sleeve for his inaugural trilogy album Wednesdays, as self-evident clues leading to something akin to the gesamtkunstwerk of studio debauchery and stern live renditioning that his own personal interpretation of Nebraska panned out to be.
What matters though is the substance, the artistic elixir; not the format. Nebraska is his second free digital download gift to fans in quick succession, following rapidly on the heels of the brilliant and neat Devolver. With it, DRA seems to self-fulfil the reassurance that he can rest on the grounded belief that effortless creative sprawls are there for him to be captured and channelled outwardly. Whether they translate into industry ruffian studio albums or self-recorded giveaways, matters only peripherally (and to those troubled enough to care). The whole point of being Ryan Adams is to be afforded the creative and marketing license to retain the unfiltered, untamed, and unedited impetus that always accompanied him along his near thirty years worth of discography—irrespective of whether that’s true blue country on Jacksonville City Nights, heartland rock on his self-titled, or heavy metal on Orion.
Nebraska, much like say Devolver, the PaxAm Single Series, or his more recent Instagram live sessions, speaks of the auteur working out, attending his regular gym sesh. In a not too dissimilar fashion to the source material creator’s modus operandi—who in his Born to Run memoir revealed how his songwriting prowess was shaped more by method and consistency than bursts of uncalled for inspiration—Ryan Adams can’t not write and put out music. So why not wholly condoning his embrace of such an un-produced urge by way of leveraging his modern day freedom from contractual or material constraints to opt into a ‘the more the merrier’ ethos? Lest we misunderstand, the approach is additive, not discrete.
While we all eagerly await Bruce to unearth his own lost drum-loop based synth-washed album, let this project carry us in a similarly unassuming yet stark fashion, all the while musing over what Springsteen’s artistic trajectory could have been in the 90s, if only. Safe to say, most of us will take this over any other disingenuous boomer bait any day of the week. How could we not: this is Ryan’s early Christmas present. Most of us will eventually come around to pardon and appreciate what’s arguably the most prolific songwriter of his generation for speeding up “Atlantic City“, chopping and screwing “Johnny 99“, or going full analogue live take on the final three cuts on his version of Nebraska—for most of us have understood that we can’t have Heartbreak-era Ryan Adams, if we can’t accept post-2020 Ryan Adams.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.