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"And all the walls we built, they must come down...
But hey, you’re my wrecking ball
Won’t you come and maybe knock me down?"
Americana singer-songwriter Ryan Adams’ self-titled thirteenth (official) full-length release wasn’t really supposed to be his follow-up to 2011’s Ashes & Fire. Initially, he’d recorded an album’s worth of material with legendary producer Glyn Johns (Led Zeppelin, The Eagles), father of in-demand producer and frequent Ryan Adams collaborator Ethan Johns, but Capitol Records deemed the LP too melancholic, too sad, and even Adams had lost interest by the time of its completion, referring to it as “slow adult shit”. Adams’ dismissive statement is most likely more a reflection/expression of his restless spirit as a songwriter rather than the actual quality of the songs themselves, but shelving these recordings for a possible later release date and choosing to focus on a somewhat different type of record may very well have been a judicious, wise decision on his part. As engaging as Ashes & Fire was, it was a very low-key affair, so while it’s not exactly a sprightly, dynamic album, Ryan Adams is still a welcome change of pace.
If there’s one influence that looms large over the majority of the songs on Ryan Adams, it’s Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, especially the west coast band’s classic 1979 album Damn The Torpedoes, most notably the ominous Trouble, with its blistering, vigorous 12-string guitar, the warm-blooded Stay With Me, and the smouldering, haunting Shadows. Adams’ crisp, concise electric guitar riffs deftly replicate (The Heartbreakers’) Mike Campbell’s subtle and understated playing style, and none other than Benmont Tench adds his distinctively elegant electric piano/organ licks.
Gimme Something Good, the first single off the album, is yet another Tom Petty-indebted song, as is the fiery Feels Like Fire. Ryan Adams does, however, display other influences, too. I Just Might brings to mind a significantly sped-up, up-tempo version of Bruce Springsteen’s State Trooper, and the arrangement and harmonies of Am I Safe sounds like a collaboration between Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham. And then there’s the fragile-sounding, Neil Young-esque Wrecking Ball; destined to become a fan favorite, this acoustic ballad takes its rightful place among lovelorn Ryan Adams classics such as Come Pick Me Up, Why Do They Leave, and When The Stars Go Blue. Ryan Adams is a damn fine album.