“Moving like the fog on the Cumberland River, I was leaving on the Delta Queen, and I wasn't ready to go -- I'm never ready to go. Twenty-seven years of nothing but failures and promises that I couldn't keep, oh lord, I wasn't ready to go -- I'm never ready to go. Let it ride, Let it ride easy down the road.”
It’s been a long decade for Ryan Adams. It seems like a long time ago that he was a flavor of the month sitting in front of the twin towers, being perceived a grief monger and singing about his favorite city. It’s even longer since Whiskeytown broke up and Adams took off and released an album filled with mini-classics. Since then, he’s been lauded as a semi-genius and a wunderkind, or derided as a hump, a brat, an actress-shagging drug addict, a narcissistic blogger and a thief.
“Loaded like a sailor tumbling off a ferry boat, I was at the bar till three. Oh Lord, I wasn't ready to go -- I'm never ready to go. Tennessee's a brother to my sister Carolina. Where they're gonna bury me? I ain't ready to go -- I'm never ready to go. Let it ride, let it ride easy down the road.”
For whatever reason, the guy has a hard time sorting things out. He hates our vapid celebrity-obsessed culture, but he seems to feed it with his public spats with other rock stars, late-night phone calls to radio stations and the absurd need to answer criticism with long, rambling Phil Lesh-style missives.
Which brings us to the next point: there is no use in trying to figure out what the hell goes on with the guy. Anyone I know who has met him says he’s wacky and charming and out there and hilarious. He’s a self-professed comic book geek, a crazy Merge Records fan, an Oasis-freak, a Slayer fan and someone that, frankly, seems to need tons of loving attention, for whatever reason. I mention all of this only because many people’s view of Adams seems to stem from a decade’s worth of tantrums and stupid news items that in the end mean nothing. Adams will tell you that it’s all about the art, maaan -- that in the end, as a music fan, isn’t that all that really matters? I sometimes draw the line (and raise a middle finger) when he goes into a 20-minute version of “LA Woman” at Roseland or when he shows up crazy late to a show in Tribeca, wasted, with Minnie Driver, and claims to have had all sorts of issues getting a taxi. But in the end, he’s kicked serious ass in most of the live shows I’ve seen and he’s given us an encyclopedia’s worth of incredibly great tunes. The peripheral drama is amusing for a short period of time, but I stopped caring about that stuff after he stopped killing me with “fuck you to the record company” releases like 2003s Rock n Roll.
The truth is, it is impossible to complain about Adams’ output this decade – 11 LPs, if you include Whiskeytown’s Pneumonia. Hell, in 2005 alone, he released 3 full albums, one of them a double LP. You can pick things apart and criticize this or that, but the art (maaaan) does stand on its own. And after the aforementioned abomination that was Rock n Roll he returned a year later with Cold Roses, a double album filled with Grateful Dead-inspired jams, that, for the first time since Heartbreaker did not feel like he was aping someone else, but instead trying to find the middle ground between Black Flag, Gram Parsons, The Dead, The Smiths and Oasis. Since that time -- not coincidentally this was the same time he started playing with The Cardinals -- his music has seemed very comfortable with what it is and I love Cold Roses for that reason.
The most common complaint with Adams is that he needs an editor. Springsteen and Petty, for example, are very fond of reminding us that they have hundreds of songs that were worthy of some album, just not the ones they ended up releasing. People think that if Adams took some time to craft a proper album with a common theme, the overall product would be better. But it’s clear that he doesn’t work this way. His process, the one that has brought us TONS of great songs, is to write songs and immediately put them to tape, capturing the vibe of five guys in a room. There are some relative clunkers on each of his records, but in the end, has anyone this decade written and recorded a larger volume of high-quality songs as Adams? You could say that Jack White has and certainly Conor Oberst has matched Adams in terms of sheer volume of releases, but that’s pretty good company, I think.
All of this leads us to the final fact that I had to choose one of his songs for this list and it’s a nearly impossible task, except that I could all but eliminate many of the songs that he wrote that seemed to simply be tributes to his heroes. To wit:
“Damn Sam I Love a Woman That Rains” – Bob Dylan
“So Alive” – The Smiths
“Magnolia Mountain” – Grateful Dead
“Answering Bell” – Van Morrison
“La Cienga Just Smiled” – Elton John
“New York, New York” – Hootie and The Blowfish
“Beautiful Sorta” – New York Dolls
“Tears of Gold” – Neil Young
“Chelsea Hotel Nights” – Prince
“Sweet Illusions” – Chris Isaacs
“A Kiss Before I Go” – Hank Williams
“Tina Toledo’s Street Walkin’ Blues” – Rolling Stones
“Halloweenhead” -- Weezer
I’m left with 300 other songs, but “Let it Ride” is Adams distilling all of these influences into one tune with great lyrics, great playing and a great melody…and what else is there? Check it out here and tell me you don’t agree.