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Instant Expert: Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams
David Black
You’ve seen them at parties, lurking in the corner, waiting to engage in battle disguised as conversation. They’re indie rock know-it-alls, and no matter what band or musician you mention, they’ve got an opinion — strong and almost certainly negative — ready to ram down your throat. With our new feature Instant Expert, we offer preparation for these very situations. Each Thursday, in advance of your weekend carousing, we pick an artist and provide a quickie career overview, highlighting both prevailing critical opinions and the inevitable contrarian counterarguments. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the music, you’ll be able to bluff your way through and defend your indie cred. Next up: Ryan Adams.

Samir Hussein, Getty Images
Samir Hussein, Getty Images

The Gist


Ryan Adams launched his solo career in 2000, after six years of fronting the fractious North Carolina alt-country band Whiskeytown. He’s kept busy since, releasing a dozen albums of heartbroken music under his own name and with his mid-2000s band the Cardinals — said to represent just a fraction of the material he’s written and recorded. It’s all part of a resume that also includes various heavy metal and hardcore side projects (Orion, WereWolph, the Finger), production gigs (Willie Nelson, Jesse Malin) and even a brief retreat from music to deal with an inner-ear problem. Not too long a retreat, though: Adams returned last year with the excellent 'Fire & Ashes.'


Critical Consensus


Adams’ output has been prodigious enough that nailing down a consensus is no easy feat, but his solo debut, 2000’s ‘Heartbreaker,’ tends to get the most critical love for its combination of searing ballads like ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina,’ and seat-of-his-pants rockers such as “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High).”


Contrarian Counterargument


Yeah, ‘Heartbreaker’ is good, but it’s rough. ‘Gold’ (2001) more fully develops Adams’ sound and shows the full range of his songwriting chops.


Counter Counterargument


Yeah, ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Gold’ are good, but Adams shines brightest on his Grateful Dead-inspired double-album ‘Cold Roses’ (2005). ‘Magnolia Mountain’ is full of tasty jams, dude!

Gareth Cattermole, Getty Images
Gareth Cattermole, Getty Images

Whatever You Do, Don’t Say This


Play ‘Summer of ’69!’


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