Adam’s 29 falls short of past achievements
By Joe Hooten
When it seems like you’ve heard all there is to hear from our Carolina troubadour Mr. Ryan Adams, he follows through with his promise and comes out with his third release in one year. The album 29 is a relatively short nine-track disc that symbolically recounts a year of his life during his 20’s.
Now that he’s 31, Adams can calmly reflect on his youth and put out a record that effectively summarizes his experiences. Adams sets his memories to music in 29 with mostly acoustic/piano ballads and a few rowdy rockers that still harken back to bands like the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead.
Produced by Ethan Johns (who worked with Adams on 2000’s Heartbreaker and 2001’s Gold), 29 sputters and stalls throughout the entire disc. There are some highlights like the title track which begins with a familiar beat that sounds so much like the Dead’s “Truckin’” you would think Bobby or Jerry was about to come through your speakers. The song does make you recall some of his more respectable work found on Gold or Heartbreaker, but nevertheless it’s a blatant rip-off of a very cool riff.
The Spanish\surf swing of “The Sadness” is especially enjoyable, but the rest of the album comes up short — way short. In several tracks, Adams’ whispery vocals float across his piano playing only to echo in a hollow vacuum where no one seems to care about lost loves and cliché moments that only a naïve listener would believe.
The unfortunate outcome is that this album nearly bored me silly and the musical rip offs are plentiful. Tracks like “Strawberry Wine” and “Carolina Rain” are commendable as Adams is clearly a competent and skillful songwriter and even for all the sell-out moments he has accumulated. I will stand by my belief in his abilities, but his incessant song production needs a good editor so that each song becomes something that is uniquely his own and not borrowed or stolen.
During his days with Whiskeytown, Adams produced some of the most outstanding alt-country ballads, like “Dancing with the Women at the Bar” and “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart,” yet with each new album Adams seems to prove to most music critics that his songwriting peaked in the late ‘90s. Let’s hope that Adams finds time to regroup and fixate on what makes a song timeless and extraordinary in 2006 because nothing on this album is.