Ryan Adams is many things—prolific, erratic, gifted, inconsistent—but one thing he’s never been is predictable. Just last year, he streamed 11 albums of one-minute punk, hip-hop and country songs, all of which proved entertaining but by no means fit for commercial release. Even after his three album run in 2005 of Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights and 29, each of which were somewhat surprising in themselves, few could have seen his oddball pisstake genre experiments coming. That was just Ryan having a bit of fun, though. On a true artistic level, his releases have gone from his alt-country debut Heartbreaker to the classic rock of Gold to the arena rock of RockNRoll and back to bluegrass on Jacksonville City Nights. There are several essential recordings in his catalog, but his inability to stick to one style for much longer than a few months makes it all the more difficult to name a definitive Adams album. His ninth and latest, Easy Tiger, might not be that definitive release, but it is certainly the most `Ryan Adams’ he’s ever sounded, in that he’s managed to record an album that combines the sounds of all his prior releases.
With the electric country-rock jam “Goodnight Rose” kicking off the album, Adams immediately jumps into the ’70s style folk rock of Cold Roses, one of his finest hours (and a half). One track later, Adams duets with the subdued and nearly undetectable Sheryl Crow on “Two,” a slow and simple tune that could have been plucked from the Gold sessions. Similarly, “Everybody Knows” brings to mind that album’s radio-friendly rootsiness, making for one of the better tracks overall and one to save for the `best-of’, which by now might stretch to a third disc.
Things get a bit weird by track four, titled, goofily, “Halloweenhead.” Rocking out like the power chord crunchers on his oft-maligned RockNRoll disc, it’s the silliest track on here, though a deeper reading suggests a connection to his past drug use (“head full of tricks `n treats,” “what the fuck is wrong with me/ I got a Halloween head”), a nasty habit he kicked sometime after the 2005 album marathon. And then, just one song later, Adams brings the tone back down to a hushed and subtle folk sound on “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.,” a track that, in spite of another goofy title, is one of the prettier on the album. Ever the restless artist, Adams switches positions again on the Gram Parsons-like “Tears of Gold,” which, this time, could have been a Jacksonville City Nights outtake. And by this point, the album is sounding something like a `greatest hits’ album on its own, were it not all-new material.
While there are no frustrating half-assed songs like “Wish You Were Here” or unnecessary “Purple Rain” tributes like “Hotel Chelsea Nights,” Easy Tiger is an album of good songs rather than great ones. Only “Everybody Knows” and the gorgeous break-up song “Rip-Off” approach the heights of his greatest work. Not that I’m complaining; a solid set is still a solid set, and with the news that Adams unreleased sessions such as 48 Hours and The Suicide Handbook finally being released in box set form, we might have another banner Adams year ahead of us.
Ryan Adams – Gold
Rhett Miller – The Believer
Josh Rouse – Dressed Up Like Nebraska
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.