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Glorious 2001 album! Hope, heartbreak & rock 'n' roll ... what more do you want?
Torrential creativity has fast-forwarded the artistic evolution of former Whiskeytown frontman Ryan Adams from country-rock boy wonder (see Faithless Street) to despondent troubadour with a 1960s fixation (his solo debut Heartbreaker), but it may also explain why listeners often need to wade through some pedestrian material just to find a few pearls of poetic excellence. Gold is no exception to that trend, a sometimes engaging middle-of-the-road roots-pop album that's both overlong (70 minutes) and at times overindulgent. There are high spots--such as the bouncy, breezy opener "New York, New York" and the plaintive ballad "When the Stars Go Blue" (which features a vocal turn reminiscent of Morrissey)--but much of the disc gets lost in forests of indistinct guitars and plodding percussion that never nudges Adams into actually rocking. Gold is the work of a notoriously prolific songwriter who hasn't yet learned to play to his strengths, one whose execution doesn't yet match his vision. --Anders Smith Lindall
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Whether or not it's your first Ryan Adams album or not doesn't matter. Gold is Adams' second studio album and his most eclectic - rich with a classic feeling mix of genre influences including rock, country, and blues. His record company seems to have had some difficulties labeling the album - it was nominated for both rock and country awards at the Grammy's. The video for "New York, New York" played on country music TV channels but most of the album doesn't fit the glossy pop makeover of modern country music - it has more in common with the stuff from a few decades before. I once saw his music as part of a "Renegade Country" endcap at Best Buy, partnered with the likes of Wilco and Brandi Carlile.
When I say its his most eclectic album I say so knowing full well Adams full career span is prolifically diverse. Active for about 13 years now as a solo artist, he's released 13 full-fledged studio albums, four of which could be classified as double albums, with three releases coming in one year alone (2005's Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights, and 29). Each has its own distinct style that stands alone from the others while still being Ryan Adams. One is completely shredder metal. But the rich vintage feel of Gold is probably his most feel-good album.
Although there are no weak points on Gold, Adams' finest stuff is the run from tracks 2-5, which covers everything from heartsick love songs ("Answering Bell", "La Cienega Just Smiled") to rip-roaring harmonica tunes ("Firecracker") to transcendent blues ("Rescue Blues"). Take "Firecracker" for instance. A quick-driving guitar riff, Hammond organs in the back, and a soaring bluesy harmonica whenever Ryan's not singing lyrics like this: "So when does the plane go down? / 'Cause I'm gonna ride it till it hits the ground / Then go out with a fight / 'Cause I just wanna be your baby tonight." It only gets better from there.
First these songs loosen you up. Then they excite you. Then they make you blissfully melancholy. And finally they leave you feeling kind of grateful. Some have said the best music, literature, film, art, etc., leaves you changed after you experience it. It invigorates you to the degree that you know its more than just entertainment. You're a different person after experience it. If you're not feeling that after the 9-minute blues journey story-song of "Nobody Girl" or the simple hard-rock driver that is "Enemy Fire" than maybe you just need to turn up the volume or put on some better headphones. I understand that maybe it won't have that effect on you. But maybe you'll get that lovin' feeling. Or maybe I'm just holding on too tightly to that teenage emotion.
For the aficionados and Gold-lovers out there look for the deluxe version with an extra disc of songs - Adams originally meant it to be a double album. Seeing as how he's on my Top 5 it really was an obligation for me to get it once I found out about it. There are a couple gems on there. And if you made it this far and wondering when I'm going to talk about "Summer of 69" then please hit the self destruct button on your computer now as the internet has failed you.
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OK, so given the timing, that tune sucked me into the record, in a very visceral way. But the whole thing had masterpiece written all over it from the very first spin at my home in September of 2001. As my wife so aptly said, "It has that sweet familliar ring of every album you ever loved as a kid." Which, if you are our age, means it feels like Van Morrison, Neil Young, Dylan, Exile-era Stones, like that. It hits you in that "Into the Mystic," "Brown Sugar," "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" place. Do you like that place? Yeah, me too.
Adams is so prolific an artist that he is generally an album or two ahead of his fans; by February of 2001 he was playing these rockers to rooms full of alt.country romantics who wanted to moon with him over the Heartbreaker songs. But now, four years on, "New York New York," "Answering Bell," "Stars Go Blue," and "Rescue Blues" sound like songs you've known all your life, and are warmly greeted in concert as the masterworks they are.
Adams is a polarizing figure; people tend to have strong opinions toward him, either way. I obviously lean toward the "love everything he touches" camp. But divorced from the public persona, the music on this disc stands up to the closest scrutiny, taps into a classic vein defined by the artists listed above (and more recently, by Lucinda Williams and Counting Crows). I hate to compare one artist to others, but I find it a helpful construct in providing buying advice; its the "recommended if you like..." concept. If you've read this far, I think you know whether you want to buy this or not.
If not, I'll add that if I were to suggest a single title to someone interested in getting their ears wet with Adams, this would be the one. I think you can find traces of every direction he's gone in, before and since, on this album. It is long (70 minutes or so), but in a sweeping sort of way; I can listen to it all the way through and not find a single song I want to cut.
Take time for something worth while, this a beautifully written CD with a lot of soul.
I look forward to more from Ryan, I think he can only get better.