Album review: Ryan Adams delivers a stellar self-titled LP

Annie Zaleski

Four stars

Ryan Adams Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams’ fabled capricious tendencies surfaced when he attempted to follow up 2011’s Ashes & Fire: The singer-songwriter abandoned music he created with noted producer Glyn Johns in favor of an entirely new record and direction. Judging by the strength of the material on the resulting album—a fantastic self-titled LP created with production partner Mike Viola that also features suitably spooky organ and piano contributions from Benmont Tench—his instincts were entirely correct.

Ryan Adams is a focused, well-crafted collection of rock ’n’ roll that depicts nagging inner demons, shattered hearts and the plague of ambition. The themes may feel familiar, but the arrangements and instrumentation—such as honeyed electric guitars, brittle acoustic riffs and keening harmonies—lift it above others in Adams’ catalog. “I Just Might” is simmering ’80s E Street Band swagger filtered through The Smiths; “My Wrecking Ball” is stripped-down grit-folk; and both “Gimme Something Good” and “Stay With Me” channel the late Jason Molina of Magnolia Electric Co., from the weary vocals to the spare, Neil Young-inspired guitar hurricanes.

As always, though, Adams is more than the sum of his influences. He comes by his melancholy honestly, and he strives for transcendence rather than imitation. He hasn’t always succeeded, but Ryan Adams is nothing less than a total triumph.

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