Sunday, September 6, 2015


Ryan Adams stripped his music down to the bone to create a country catharsis in this winding wheel of ruined romance.    Adams had played with The Patty Duke Syndrome before he went on to start Whiskeytown, who became rising stars in the alternative country scene with two acclaimed albums (Faithless Street in 1995  and  Strangers Almanac in 1997) until their record label Outpost got lost in the midst of a merger between Universal and Polygram.    Their third album Pneumonia was already finished; but it wouldn't be released for another two years.  In the meantime, Whiskytown had broken up.  Adams says:    "The decision was made for us, really, just by time and circumstance, and I respect things that happen like that. By the time we went to make Pneumonia, there were only three surviving members. Everybody kind of pooled thoughts together for that album, and when it didn't come out, it was kind of like we reached an end that's inevitable, and we all knew it in the back of our minds ...  I can’t be proud or embarrassed of what I did in Whiskeytown because I was so young,” he says. “I really was not a fully developed human being...I started this damn country band, ‘cause punk rock was too hard to sing...There’s this wrong idea about me being identified with things that are Southern or country.  I do not fucking like country music and I don’t own any of it. I watched Hee-Haw as a kid with my grandmother, I only like country music as an irony. I liked it when I would get drunk...I suppose playing country music felt like learning how to build a beautiful bookshelf or something.  There was a certain amount of honesty that had to be there and it had to hurt. I loved the discipline of that. It reminded me of the challenge of playing punk rock. But me playing country music … it was a false face. It was style appropriation.”

In the wake of his breakup with music publicist Amy Lombardi, Adams went to Nashville to record his solo debut.  'Heartbreaker' was produced by Ethan Johns at Woodland Studios and features  Ryan Adams on vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, piano, and banjo;   Ethan Johns on drums, bass, Chamberlain, glockenspiel, B-3, vibes, and backing vocals;   David Rawlings on backing vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, and tambourine;   Gillian Welch on backing vocals, banjo, acoustic guitar, electric bass, and the "voice of Lucy";   Pat Sansone on piano, Chamberlin, organ, and  backing vocals;  and  Emmylou Harris, Kim Richey, and Allison Pierce on backing vocals.  Johns (son of legendary engineer and producer Glyn Johns) remembers:   "Heartbreaker was done in 10 days flat, including the mixing.  I mixed that record on the monitor section of the Neve. There's no EQ on those mixes. I had a pan and two echoes, that's it. I had been working through the monitor section of the console and when it came time to mix, I put the tapes up back through the console and it sounded terrible. So I immediately went, 'Fuck that,' and put it back through the monitor section...The leakage on Heartbreaker is good leakage, 'cause it was a nice room...Most of the drum sound you're hearing — probably about 70 percent — is coming through the guitar and the vocal...What you're doing is completely living with the drum sound that you get through the vocal mic.  How you set up in the room is going to dictate the sound that you get, so you're thinking about the distances and all that kind of stuff. You're miking the kit to complement the sound that's coming through the vocal mic. It's the way they were doing it in the '50s, and it worked pretty well back then.”

 'Heartbreaker' charted at number one hundred and eighty-three in the UK and number sixty-seven in Ireland.  Adams would reveal:   "It's about being really sad and missing somebody.  [Amy] changed my whole life. I was like one piece of pizza. She taught me how to be the whole pie  ...  The songs are me, and the guitars are me. The style of the way something is recorded … it’s a ritual. It’s a preparation. So, you know … we can all make each other a meal. Anybody can make pasta and take pasta and put it in the pot. But how it’s gonna come out is gonna be different. I’m going to do it differently than you’re gonna do it. So if we do it together, it’s going to be really fucking different. It’s not wrong. It’s just like … the raw elements of truth and meaning are there. And the way that somebody kind of boils that up, and fixes it, and serves it to people, it’s still going to nourish them. But the flavors are going to be different, and the intentions are going to be different...I’m not saying that I’ve never made any other records that are me, I mean, that’s not true. I’m not going to say Heartbreaker’s not me, either. It is me. I’m just saying, there’s a way that those songs can come across, by the way the studio is prepared, the musicians who are chosen, the leader of the session. The producer sets the stage for everything that’s going to happen.   But when you get to the end of a record and you don’t hear a style being invented, that’s when I think the bones of the record are strong. And the character of the record is strong. When you don’t know what it is. It hints that it’s something that it is, but it doesn’t really know what it is. I don’t think many people know what records really are anyway till a couple years later.   There’s a time and place for some records, you know? Sure, there’s incidental records you can listen to every day, put in your car and do this and do that. But imagine if all records were supposed to have a general, over-arching reach. That would be so bad. A lot of my records, because they’re kind of about, in my opinion, they’re a little darker or a little more focused on the internal, sometimes focused on the eternal...They’re contemplations maybe meant for individuals."

"To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)"

"Oh My Sweet Carolina"

"Don't Ask for the Water"

"Shakedown on 9th Street"

full album:

All songs written and composed by Ryan Adams, unless otherwise noted. 

1. "(Argument with David Rawlings Concerning Morrissey)" (An argument regarding the Morrissey track "Suedehead".)   0:37
2. "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)"   Ryan Adams and David Rawlings 3:04
3. "My Winding Wheel"     3:13
4. "AMY"     3:46
5. "Oh My Sweet Carolina"     4:57
6. "Bartering Lines"   Ryan Adams and Van Alston 3:59
7. "Call Me On Your Way Back Home"     3:09
8. "Damn, Sam (I Love a Woman That Rains)"     2:08
9. "Come Pick Me Up"   Ryan Adams and Van Alston 5:18
10. "To Be the One"     3:01
11. "Why Do They Leave?"     3:38
12. "Shakedown on 9th Street"     2:53
13. "Don't Ask for the Water"     2:56
14. "In My Time of Need"     5:39
15. "Sweet Lil Gal (23rd/1st)"     3:39

A Heartbreaker Road Trip
part one

part two

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