ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): RYAN ADAMS – WEDNESDAYS | 2020-12-12

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.

AV

RYAN ADAMS

WEDNESDAYS

2020, PaxAm Recording Company

https://ryanadamsofficial.com

ORANGE | 2020-01-01

   A hand to touch
   A fit, to mask or shake just what
   It is January or not
Time splinters off in a drool well
It rains or it stops raining
A sink clogs or it stops draining
The mask falls off
   A new bouquet swells
   A sneeze lets loose
In the house the animals stir
The print on the couch dwells
It lets go of its color
And the light fades
   What color is that?
   What moment is that?
   What figure is drawn?
   On what eyes?
   A child yawns
   A seat on the bus is closed
This light, This year, This hour
It multiplies itself by the word
It goes soup on the bowl
And the bowl draws near
Its color revealed
   A kind sleep
   A hellish dream
   On my skin that sun goes orange
   And I burn myself
   And my eyes cave in
This horror of time clicks my heels
It laughs that laugh of cruel poses
Our dreams are not our collective
But submission is easier
When we pretend this together
   A fantasy a clock
   A hand designs hour not hands
   A minute exposes cracks
   A time forgets us
   A stop
   My eyes hurt
   It is too much
   Orange

© This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to real events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Words by 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.

AV

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ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): RYAN ADAMS – PRISONER | 2017-03-01

If you follow this blog with a certain regularity – and I assume it’s almost none of you reading right now – you might have noticed that 42-year old North Carolina-native Ryan Adams is somewhat of a big deal for who’s writing this. The singer-songwriter’s self-titled album, released in late 2014 to moderate success, has had an overwhelming impact on me that only few others have over my whole life and, surely in some ways because of that, I have come to thoroughly enjoy everything he has put out ever since (not mentioning revisiting his impressively huge and prolific past catalogue). Plus, carved in the history of this blog there is also a commentary slash review of Adams’s stunning live performance at London’s Hammersmith Apollo back two years ago, as well as a rather loose take on his largely talked about 1989 cover album revisiting in his own signature style one-by-one all the songs contained in Taylor Swift’s best-selling release from 2015. Furthermore, in an attempt at celebrating and highlighting Adams’s multi-artistic talent, another blogpost entry was dedicated to one of his free verse poems off of his debut collection titled Infinity Blues and published through Akashic Books in 2009. To sum it up in other words, as you can easily judge by yourself Ryan Adams is a pretty badass talented artist.

It is with this spirit in mind and with great enthusiasm that yours celebrated the release of Prisoner, Ryan Adams’s 16th (!) studio album of his career, which came out officially a little less than two weeks ago on Friday 17th February. Prisoner is Adams’s latest release under his own LA-based label PaxAmericana Recordings and it spans 12 tracks across 43 minutes. The record was previewed by a series of singles (“Do You Still Love Me?”, “To Be Without You” and “Doomsday”) and multiple promotional trips/talk show appearances which often saw the Grammy-nominated musician performing exclusive acoustic cuts off of the record. Furthermore, as part of the album cycle, the not-so-secret metalhead and cat lover started off his own radio show called The Midnight Wave on Apple’s Beats 1 and came up with glorious deluxe packages for every fan’s delight. Obviously, Prisoner’s release is also to be accompanied by a massive worldwide live tour that will keep him busy for the remainder of 2017. This is to say, is really does look like to Adams this record means something special, something that possibly wasn’t there in with previous ones or that perhaps he himself wasn’t able to experience and embody as much, as confirmed in a recent Facebook Live Q&A.

Enough for background and scene setting, let’s jump into the actual craftsmanship of this new album without any further ado. As briefly mentioned above, the first taste of Prisoner came through its lead single “Do You Still Love Me?”, made available late last year (7th December) and very much in line with Adams’ self-titled album from 2014, both sonically and thematically with respect to the overall record. The track is one of the “rockiest” ones with huge, arena-like guitars sitting on a bed of mellow and all-encompassing keyboards. Think of Tom Petty having a go at AC/DC in an ’86 London recording studio. Lyrically, the track finds Ryan questioning (his) love longing for answers but only to find more question marks along the way (“I been thinking about you, baby / Been on my mind / Why can’t I feel your love? / Heart must be blind”). Such a sappiness and inner melancholia is in fact a key reading lens for the overall record, further confirmed by the thin, acoustic second single “To Be Without You”. The track, most than any others on Prisoner, takes the listener back to the early, folky-alt-country songwriting era of Adams with trademark heartbreaking and touches of liberation and carelessness here and there. Definitely an interesting choice for a second single as, looking back, the track is pretty much left on its own in the tracklist, i.e. not being truly representative of the overall sound (yet this might as well have been a very thought-trough choice by weirdo Adams). Wrapping up with singles, the third one revealed through YouTube, “Doomsday”, is by contrast a unique musical pearl culminating from the songwriters’ latest sonic directions including, but not limited to: 80s Bruce Springsteen, The Smiths, Bruce Hornsby and Neil Young. This song at number three on the setlist combines wonderful lyrics (“My love, we can do better than this / My love, how can you complicate a kiss? / My love, you said you’d love me now ’til doomsday comes / ‘Til doomsday comes”) with musical finesse, mixing perfectly harmonica and guitars. In pole position to becoming a Ryan Adams classic for years to come.

Just preceding “Doomsday” on the record’s tracklist is title track “Prisoner”, which unfortunately, even after prolonged and insistent listenings, might funnily enough be one of the dullest and tasteless tracks on the whole effort. Albeit being a doubtless uplifter mood-wise, especially when considered within the context of this overall moody record, the track results a bit too incomplete and frankly too naked to be a final album version, but probably too confused and at the same time elaborated to be considered as a demo or B-side. However, the title track probably remains the only lower moment on Prisoner, which indeed sees a number of incredibly subtle and powerful cuts, such as the perfect modern-day acoustic number “Haunted House” at number four, or the minimalistic, heart-wrenching, and chilling “Shiver and Shake”, both carrying exclusive signature Adams’ sound and harmonies as developed and nurtured over the past five years. These two tracks, still very much in line with an irresistible – and at times cheesy – Springsteenian 80s echoy, chorusy, and reverberate sound, with the aforementioned “To Be Without You”, come to complete side A of the LP. And yet many would say that the best is yet to come.

Track number seven is “Anything I Say to You Now”, a fiery, 5-minute long classic rock cut with numerous walls of guitar sounds that dial in direct digits to The Smiths and some lateish Police vibes, just to name a few of the influences very explicitly worn on Adams’ sleeves. No doubt the rockiest moment on the whole album alongside the lead single “Do You Still Love Me?”. Immediately after that we find the superb guitar work of “Breakdown”, possibly among the most electrifying and proud tracks Adams has released in years, with the addition of an high catchiness alert. Following the energy of “Breakdown” it’s time for yours truly’s favourite bit on the whole record (and potentially of the whole Ryan Adams catalogue, although “Shadows” and “Dear Chicago” remain hard to beat), called “Outbound Train”, which if one were not to look carefully could easily be mistaken for a song off of Bruce Springsteen’s 1986 Tunnel of Love (“Two Faces” anyone?). The track perfectly encapsulates anger, emotion, love and much more in a very uncompromising climax of sounds and lyrics (“The cars don’t move in the middle of the night / Lost inside the void of the fading tail lights / I swear I wasn’t lonely when I met you, girl”). Tempo, structure, and rhythm all take each other by the hand and carry the listener in a phantasmagoric four and a half minute journey marking intimacy, honesty, and rawness on Adams’ behalf.

Moving on, the last trio of songs on Prisoner begins with the mellow and rather hopeless “Broken Anyway”, which finds regularly captivating and dreamy electric guitar strums accompanying a rather simple acoustic lead with pleasant vocal melody. Also, this very song, alongside the following one “Tightrope”, bear heavy influences and remnants of Adams’ Taylor Swift interpretation and recording sessions for 1989, as both tracks just simply possess that vibe and overall feel which are impossible to negate. Prisoner calls its curtains with the properly titled “We Disappear”, which showcases what might be the best guitar sound that’s been heard out there in the electrical pantheon in a very long while and turns very quickly, very weird, perfectly matching the personal mission that Adams himself has been advocating for long (read his Twitter bio).

It’s no secret by now, being two weeks into its release, that Prisoner has found enormous success and praise by both critics and charts, demonstrating once more how amazingly the singer-songwriter is still able to not only reinvent and re-craft his musical outputs but also becoming an artist on his own, disregarding for the most part trends, genres, and commercial reasonings. The overwhelmingly positive reception the record has gotten around the world does nothing else other than confirming that we, the people, needed a record like this in present times of disorder, dismay and loss of connections. That is, by figuratively stripping himself completely naked and putting his most inner emotions out there telling stories of his failed marriage and connected despair, Ryan Adams showed us all that there is nothing to fear in being open and transparent about oneself and, most importantly, that honesty and truth will eventually unite us all in appreciation. Because at heart, we really shouldn’t be capable of nothing else.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

RYAN ADAMS

“PRISONER”

2017, PaxAmericana Recording Company

http://paxamrecords.com

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RAIN ON AMERICA | 2016-09-25

The past couple weeks have been extremely intense music-wise for me. On 16th September my all time favourite band Taking Back Sunday released their seventh studio album Tidal Wave, which has doubtlessly been on a loopy repeat ever since, whereas two days ago – on Friday 23rd September – Buffalo, NY, hardcore natives Every Time I Die dropped their highly anticipated and already acclaimed new LP Low Teens. Both made (and are still making…) for a very dense musical listening period which will likely fruit in some form of review on this frequencies sooner or later. I wouldn’t want to give away too much at this stage yet but I’ve got to say both of them offer, in very different ways, loads of interesting talking points and somehow represent new sonic frontiers for both outfits. More on this soon(-ish).

I just really wanted to touch base and highlight a little piece of art by alt-folk singer songwriter Ryan Adams that caught my attention during the past days. Interestingly enough, this time round I’m not talking about a song or album, but rather a free poem called Rain on America he released within his collection “Infinity Blues”, published back in 2009 and followed by a second instalment titled “HelloSunshine” during the same year. To be fair there could indeed be some room for musical excerpts, considering that the 41-year-old North Carolina minstrel recently announced the release of yet another LP in his already incredibly prolific career (18 studio albums and 11 EPs recorded in about 20 years!), provisionally called “Prisoner” and which Rolling Stone rightfully listed among its 35 must-hear albums of this fall. Yet I’d rather leave said musings to after it comes out, due in November, and let Ryan’s pungent and at times thorny verses do the talking for this one instead.

There’s not much to say really to introduce the following poem other than it truly resonates and emerges as relevant as ever to the current socio-political landscape, not only in the USA but other major Western countries too, even though it was most likely written about a decade ago. Enjoy it responsibly:

so dirty
so dirty and so mean
is a rainbow
is a letter-stained
is a blowhole sewer
that’s right
just a touch of little america
in a small town
wishing you were gay
or allergic
to something
anything
symmetrical lines ripe with train machines
like arms
branches of trees stuck to this rock
out-stretching
blowing up fast
through
shadow mole-holes
and
rain
rain rain rain


so dirty
so dirty and mean
hands like a battling machine
like a failed robotic attempt
like an interruption at the movies
like texting your former lover
or future
because he will not stop your nevers
not here
with a little touch of america
at your service door
flags in the yard
dogs in the house
his name above
loose and no growl
little ones go teary and cross
while the plate gets heavy with
cigarettes and lip gloss
and gin-scum breath
and cigarette-tray stains
and a hand gets bit by an animal
but nobody screams
or says anything
the mall dies
so eventually
store by store
the zombies outside they aren’t scary anymore
before the movies went cold before before
and the film backed up on the shilling and trade post
and chicken meat got hormonal and plain


so dirty
so dirty and so mean
little and loud
angry
and effortlessly proud
of nothing
and plain
just a little touch of america
rain
rain rain rain.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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TA(Y)LORING RYAN ADAMS IN HIS 1989 RENDITION | 2015-10-10

At first glance this one may very well seem like yet another ARM blogpost for you to digest before returning to the usual Interweb-based practices of watching cats doing silly faces and ripping off vegan recipes strictly gluten-free. But no, even though it most definitely deals with music, I’m not framing this text as another instalment of my award-winning music review feature, simply because for the point I’d like to make I feel it’d be better not to constraint the boundaries of my argument to pre-defined redactional criteria.

Alright, first things first. On 21st September alt-country singer-songwriter Ryan Adams released his own track-by-track rendition of multi-platinum best-selling Taylor Swift album “1989”, which came out a little less than a year before. While I’ve already got to point out that at the time of the release I wasn’t really familiar with Swift’s effort – except for those inevitable, chart-topping tunes such as “Shake it Off” and “Blank Space” that were just all over – the fact in itself got me pretty excited and utterly curious. Partly because Ryan Adams, who I’ve had the chance to see twice recently, as reported here and also here, is one of my favourite artists of all time, but partly also because the artistic move of covering 1:1 a record that has established itself as one of the most successful of all time and has such a precise and unequivocal connotation associated with it is a pretty bold thing to do in the first place. Yet, Ryan Adams is also the dude who put Oasis’ most famous song into his darkest and most intimate album and released it as a single. Or even the guy with the most similar name to Bryan Adams who then covered the Canadian’s hit singles “Summer of 69” and “Run to You” at some of his live shows. You get the idea.

What I wanna say is that with his cover of “1989” Ryan Adams has been able to access his most-inner artistic capacity and to convert such source into a perfectly sounding Ryan Adams record, as if the songs came out straight from his own urge to express himself the way he best does. In a way, it almost felt necessary for Ryan to draw upon someone else’s initial creative output in order to mirror himself from a new, fresh, and possibly less biased perspective. There’s no track on Ryan’s “1989” that doesn’t sound like something that Ryan himself could’ve written from every tune’s conception. In fact, following on this, there are in my opinion songs on “1989” that have been masterly reinvented and transformed for the best by Ryan, such as “All You Had to Do Was Stay”, “Shake it Off”, and “Wildest Dreams”, which all reached new levels of perfect after the alt-country songwriter’s intervention and can’t really compare to the superficiality of Taylor Swift’s initial versions. To be fair, there also are tunes that still seem to sound and perform better with Taylor’s backing instead of Ryan’s, as with the most obvious case of the empty “Blank Space” (no pun intended… really), despite Taylor herself declaring it her favourite reinterpretation of the whole album during Ryan’s first exclusive interview post-1989 with Beat 1’s superstar host Zane Lowe.

There is however a bucket of songs for which it’s truly hard to tell which version makes them really stand out, either Taylor’s or Ryan’s. Possibly precisely because both versions, the original mainstream-poppy one and its more inward-looking re-imagination, truly make sense and deliver that little (or rather big) something that everyone looks for in music, that is connection, feelings, and reliance. I’m referring here to songs like “Style” (arguably Adams’ best tune on the record) and “Bad Blood”, that not only showcase Ryan’s ability to spin extremely radio-friendly songs and make them his own property, but which to be honest also sounds pretty good with Taylor’s voice on top of them. In this regard, the repetitive listens I have given to Ryan’s rendition of “1989” have actually allowed me to move closer to Taylor’s original release as well, enabling me to appreciate and leverage her work in a surprisingly manner. At this point I’d also like to give a well-deserved shout out to America’s sweetheart herself, because I truly believe she’s one of the greatest out there. Not only because of her activism and engagement in trying to make the music industry a better and fairer place, but also because truth be told she always demonstrates a relatively low-profile in everything she does, especially if compared to other pop superstars of her fame. Also, on top of all this, she writes good tunes.

Going back to my main point of this blogpost, I feel like for his fifteenth (!) studio album Ryan Adams really had to initially look somewhere else in order to get a sighting reflection of what he really needed to say at this point in his life. His 1989 is truly his own, despite what everyone may think. His trademark and distinguished touch on every single song is just too intense and amalgamated for them to be just surrogated compositions with some more reverb and soaring registers added to them. Such a transposition and conversion work deserved thus particular distinction, intended to both Taylor’s original songwriting and Ryan’s adoptive ability. It may then take another 15 album before Ryan decides it’s time to embrace another gravitational perspective at his own musical craftsmanship again and tailor it accordingly (in fact, he’s already got two new albums recorded and ready to be released…), so in the meantime let’s just enjoy the sonic beauty of his (genuinely owned) “1989”.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

RYAN ADAMS

“1989”

2015, PAXAMERICANA RECORDING COMPANY LLC

www.paxamrecords.com

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