I have to admit I like to live in my time bubble when most music was true craftsmanship involving real instruments and real singing, not songs that oftentimes sound indistinguishable from one another and essentially computer-generated. When browsing iTunes these days, I primarily do so to see whether an “old act” has released anything new. I always get excited when I find “new artists” whose music I like.
I had heard of Ryan Adams before, but he wasn’t exactly on my radar screen. While as such he is new to me, the singer-songwriter from Jacksonville, N.C. is anything but a newbie – he’s been around since 1994, when he became a founding member of alternative country band Wiskeytown.
Prisoner is Adams’ 11th solo album. In addition, he previously released three albums with Wiskeytown; five albums with The Cardinals, a rock band Adams fronted between 2004 and 2009; and one album with hardcore punk band, The Finger. These are 20 studio releases (not counting various EPs) in close to 22 years, a sure indication Adams has been a pretty prolific artist! It begs the question what took me so long to find him? Oh, well, the bubble.
Back to Prisoner. Pretty much all of the reviews I’ve seen note the album’s 80s AOR feel. I would generally agree, though I sometimes think critics try too hard comparing new music to other artists. So, yes, you can definitely recognize some Bruce Springsteen and some John Mellencamp in Ryan’s music on the album. Actually, his voice reminds me a bit of Jackson Browne. But I don’t want to fall into the same trap noted above, so I’ll stop the comparisons here!
Before the album came out on Feb 17, Ryan already had released three singles: The opener Do You Still Love Me? and To Be Without You in December, followed by Doomsday in January – all pretty strong tunes. By the way, the not exactly cheerful titles of these and the album’s remaining nine tunes reflect Ryan’s divorce from actor and singer Mandy Moore, which was finalized last June. The music generally is more upbeat than the song titles suggest.
Some of the album’s other standouts include the title track, Haunted House, Anything I Say to You Now and Outbound Train. In addition to melodies that are easy on the ears and Ryan’s solid voice, I like the sparse instrumentation on most of the album’s songs. Many are dominated by acoustic guitar accompanied by bass and drums, with some accents of electric guitar and keyboards here and there. Where electric guitars are more in the foreground, Ryan barely uses distortion. Altogether, this creates a very transparent sound.
Here’s a clip of the album’s opener and first single, Do You Still Love Me, one of the few tunes with dominant keyboards and a more electric rock guitar sound.
Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube