After a significant hiatus, the American troubadour Ryan Adams has returned to writing and performance. His musical persona as a troubadour was first celebrated by Ramparts on 07/10/10, in the midst of his self induced absence from the music world. Only 37, the writer and performer Adams has been associated with reflecting and reforming almost all the significant trends in American popular music in the last 16 years. At the forefront in his early twenties of the sound referred to as alternative country with his band Whiskeytown, Adams developed a reputation of simultaneously and effortlessly capturing the intimate story telling of rural North Carolina with the energy and brashness of a Greenwich Village counter culture poet. He also developed a reputation for volatile and immature stage behavior that often fractured the good feelings he had engendered with his prodigious performing and song writing talent. Eventually Adams grew too big for his bandmates and struck out on his own, producing one album after another of inflections of American music – folk, country, rock, and glam – and echoing giants of American popular musical culture like Dylan, Gram Parsons, and Neil Young – reflecting, not parroting, them. Albums such as Heartbreaker, Gold, Easy Tiger, and Cold Roses created some of the best coalitions of musical brash and poetic heartache to be heard in decades. It showed in the performers willing to serve as background vocalists for the albums, such as Emmy Lou Harris, Gillian Welch, Norah Jones, and Elton John. For ten years the issue wasn’t whether music would be created, but rather whether Adams would ever stop creating music, putting out as many as three albums in a year and often speaking of many other unrecorded collections waiting to go public. The pressure of being first the Next Thing, and then, The One, weighed heavily on a relatively simple individual from rural Carolina, and in 2009, the years of self abuse through drugs, burn out, and progressive hearing loss and disability from Meniere’s Disease, Adams decided to stop the circus act and get off the stage.
Two years later, rested, off drugs, happily married, apparently healthy, and relaxed, Ryan Adams is back, and the troubadour impulse is stronger than ever. In a the new Album Ashes and Fire Adams returns to the intimacy of country inflected rock and stirring folk anthems that made Heartbreaker so popular with the critics and public alike. The same leit motifs are there, rain, ocean, and moonlight the verbal landscapes, heartache, desire, and redemption the poetic psychologies. This is, however, an adult Adams, that responds to the desparate moments with his clear tenor, directs understanding through the organ echoes, and ultimately appears very comfortable with who he has become as a songwriter.
Ryan Adams will likely always be incorrigable, but he is becoming evermore thankful of his gift. Ryan Adams has above all always been one of those unique performers who sound even better live than in the closely packaged creations of a recording studio, and each time I’ve heard him, created an unforgettable emotional tie. These are, after all, the songs of a troubadour, who can relate the very thread of human emotion and experience, elevate the little things in life, and always make us ever more self aware. The troubadour, who has been rewarded throughout history with the rapt attention of the listening audience, who, while briefly connected, always leaves feeling a little more alive. Our generation’s troubadour is back, and hopefully will stay for a while, and a long time to come.