Nearly four full calendar years after issuing his sublime sixteenth studio LP Prisoner and an extended hibernation causing him to shy away from the public eye, North Carolina-native singer/songwriter, record producer, Pax Am Recording label owner, and poet Ryan Adams saw fit to surprise-release his new album Wednesdays in digital format on Friday 11th December (a fuller CD + LP physical release including an extra 7” with two bonus tracks is scheduled for March 2021). Originally slated to be the second in an ambitious trilogy of records to be unveiled throughout 2019, the 11-track, 42-minute long collection of songs that just hit the digital streaming shelves is a re-tooled and re-doctored redux of the initial 17-track opus announced as part of last year’s triple threat. In an interesting twist of fate—perhaps fittingly on account of 2020’s warped MO—Wednesdays’ official opening (“I’m Sorry and I Love You“) and closing (“Dreaming You Backwards“) numbers are in fact recycled residuals from what was poised to be the final tracklist for the first project to drop as part of the triptyque before getting indefinitely shelved last year, Big Colors.
By and large an unplugged and acoustic affair, save for a couple denser jams with richer arrangements (see “Birmingham” sequenced at number seven on the tracklist, a compelling alt-folk hybrid between Big Colors’ lead promo single “F*** the Rain” and Adams’ legendary “New York, New York” smash hit, or even the aforementioned tender piano-led curtain closer), this record sees the American songcraft extraordinaire lay his spirit and soul as bare as they come, while resorting to a direct, earnest, and matter-of-factly delivery that lends all the more momentum and urgency to every verse and refrain he endearingly wears on his sleeve. Unsurprisingly, thematically the project forays into heavily chartered territory for the 46-year-old alt-country rocker, touching on topics such as unrequited love (“Who’s Going to Love Me Now, If Not You“), scorching family loss (“When You Cross Over“), motherly odes (“Mamma“), and just loads and loads of heartbreak—all with the distillation and poignancy of someone who’s been through thick and thin while experiencing all of the above first hand. Suffocated by a surreal promotional quiet, a troubled past, and little to no fanfare, these are the words Ryan chose to accompany the release with:
Limbo. That’s what a Wednesday is sometimes. Maybe a portal. Maybe a bridge across. It can hang there like a forever unless maybe you’re out to sea and everything is just another token of the blue.
This record hasn’t been doing any good gathering dust over there in the stacks of blue with the other records I’ve crafted out of these broken parts of myself. It felt to me like it wanted to, no, maybe it ‘needed to’ get out for some air. Its meaning changed as it was written and, even now, I’m not so sure what it might be. But it’s time to let it go.
I know for me, music is the tunnel through. It’s the passage to connect dreams and reality. It heals as it draws the map to our souls in these tracks of memory and meaning. Of love and loss.
Pain can be the teacher to only those with the strength to listen. In these songs, I know my eyes were open to the color of the sounds, in every shade of blue and every drop of rain.
Wednesdays is that to me. It’s a map to days now gone. Like a wish, it’s here for anyone who needs it and it answers to its own creation. A narrow path across these waters it describes.
As my pen sits here on the page writing new chapters of my story, I know these songs can do some good in these weary times.
I release it to anyone who needs it, with love and humility, in hopes everyone is finding some shelter in these stormy times.
For as self-explanatory and evident this might sound describing a largely unplugged and intimate album, the record’s A-side is perhaps its more subdued and unassuming, with most of its five tracks simply sporting Adams’ heartfelt solo accounts accompanied by a de-amplified acoustic guitar. Case in point, the stern and dejected “Walk in the Dark” at number four, which also aptly captures the search for forgiveness and redemption that underpins most of the songs on the album (“I call out your name / It echoes in the room / I sleep on the couch / A bed will not do / And I don’t wanna let go / Take me back to the start / I will love you while we are learning / To walk in the dark“), whereas the outstanding folk lullaby-esque “Poison & Pain“—rounding up side A—masterfully espouses a dark confessional weight with a sweet refrain that rings catchier than it should (“And my demons / That got so bored of dreamin’ / My demons / Alcohol and freedom / A King without a Queen / A King without a kingdom“).
Turning Wednesdays upside down reveals a more instrumentally profuse B-side, tracked with an ever so slightly larger sound design and a more electric recording line-up. However, this does not seem to hold true for Adams’ seventeenth solo LP’s title track coming through at number six, furnished in the guise of yet another acoustic guitar apex, soundtracked by distant intermittent pedal steel licks and flavourful organ textures. Meanwhile, Bruce Springsteen‘s Nebraska-worshipper “So, Anyways” (triangulate this data point with the original cover art for the album announced in 2019, reported below) is another standout. A dour and spine-chilling moment that sticks out not just on this thing’s B-side, but as far as the whole project is concerned too—soaked and humidified as it is in watery reverb and ornamented by plucked fingerpicking, journeying through a striking labyrinthine allegory for love (“And where you lay your head / Is anybody’s guess these days / Our love is a maze / Only one of us was meant to escape / And I was lost until I felt your love / So, anyways“).
Notwithstanding its powerful and devastatingly cathartic tenet (“It’s not the fall from grace that breaks you down / It’s someone’s face you miss so much / You hit the ground, you hit the brakes / And you crash in the same place / Till the impact tears apart the parts of her you lost / You cannot replace“), penultimate cut “Lost in Time” might be the only real snoozer on here. Most of its characteristic elements—from sound-bedding pedal steel guitars lamenting in the background to the violent and intrusive intimacy of the performance unchaining even the softest pick thud hitting the instrument’s body—can all be found and embraced more successfully elsewhere. Admittedly, its thankless tracklist placement might or might not also go influence the exposure burden for listeners, after nearly forty minutes of pretty much the same raw and minimalistic one-dimensional formula. Yet the retrospective impression here is that it’s the tune at the core of this record that could not have been redeemed anyway. Luckily, said intense playback leitmotif gets cathartically interrupted by the lush closing statement of “Dreaming You Backwards”, a triumphant and brightening Lennon-esque ballad that gratifies and bids farewell to the existential pressure accumulated hitherto both by Adams and the listeners, mostly conveyed through silence. A silence that has never rang louder before.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
2020, PaxAm Recording Company