[Editor’s note: Many thanks to our friend and guest contributor, Jamie McKillop, for writing this wonderful piece]
Mixing the country twang of Gram Parson, the heartfelt lyrics of Neil Young and the brashness of Hüsker Dü, Ryan Adams began his solo career shortly after the dissolution of his band Whiskeytown in 2000 with the album Heartbreaker. Powered by songs like “Winding Wheel”, “Oh My Sweet Carolina”, and “Come Pick Me Up” the album received critical acclaim and prompted major labels to come calling. Signing with Lost Highway Records, Adams released Gold in 2001. The album, by far the most “accessible” in his catalog, was also his most commercially successful and its lead single “New York, New York” quickly became a favorite on MTV and other outlets following the September 11 attacks.
After the release of Gold, Adams quickly recorded four albums worth of material within a year. In a sign of some mutual acrimony to follow, Lost Highway opted to whittle the robust output down to thirteen songs and release the collection as “Demolition” in 2002. While his label chose not to release the entire collection, some of these “lost” albums are available online if you are willing to look hard enough.
For his proper follow up to “Gold”, Adams recorded a haunting, dark collection of songs entitled “Love is Hell” that many hardcore Adams fans believe to be his finest work. Not happy with the album and claiming it to be not “rock and roll” enough, Lost Highway refused to release the album and pressed Adams to return to the studio. He did, quickly recording a new album of jarring, punk infused songs entitled Rock’n’Roll which was released in 2003. While definitely the black sheep in Adams catalogue, the recording process for Rock’n’Roll seemed to be cathartic for the singer/songwriter and he has described it as being “fun as fuck”. Love is Hell was relegated to being released as two separate EPs although a full version of the record was released in 2004.
2005 proved to be the most prolific of Adams’ high-volume career, during which he released three albums. Two of the albums Cold Roses (a double album) and Jacksonville City Nights, were recorded with his new backing band, The Cardinals while the third, 29 was a solo record. While it might seem Adams could use work in the editorial department, many of the songs from these albums have become staples of his live sets, including “Let it Ride”, “If I am Stranger” and a collaboration with Norah Jones (another performer at this years festival) titled “Dear John”.
After battling and conquering some personal demons, Adams returned with 2007’s Easy Tiger. While billed as a solo record, the album was recorded with the latest iteration of the Cardinals and Adams has credited the band with being heavily involved in the creation of the albums material. Easy Tiger was more focused than his recent output and contains notable tracks like “Goodnight Rose”, “Everybody Knows” and “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.” Adams and the Cardinals followed up with Cardinology in 2008. Despite being tightly produced and the inclusion of solid tracks like “Cobwebs” and “Evergreen”, something about the album and the band seemed tired. Given this, it wasn’t surprising when Adams disbanded the Cardinals shortly after Cardinology and went into a self-imposed hiatus.
Adams returned to the musical fold in 2011 with a new outlook, a new label, new album, Ashes and Fire. During his time off, Adams moved from New York to LA and the relocation is evident in the albums relaxed, laid back material. Working with famed producer Glynn Johns, who also happens to be the father of frequent Adams collaborator Ethan Johns, Adams put together a solid collection of sparse, acoustic tracks, including, “Dirty Rain”, “Invisible Riverside” and the beautiful “Lucky Now”.
After taking another extended (at least by his standards) break, during which Adams helped produce material for Ethan Johns, Jenny Lewis (another festival performer) and Fall Out Boy, Adams dropped his latest single “Gimme Something Good” and announced that his latest, self-titled album will be released in September. “Gimme Something Good” is reminiscent of early 80’s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers mixed with Adams usual flair for a chorus, leaving this author hotly anticipating his forthcoming album and his performance tomorrow night!