Throughout the '90s, Country music's mode of operation was "cleaning up" the '70s Eagles sound and riding it to the bank. With M.O.R. pap spewing from Country radio it looked as though the time was right for Alt. Country. Like Outlaw Country, which blew away the stale Nashville establishment in the '70s, Alt. Country seemed ready to break through. Only one thing - it didn't happen. Seems the Country crowd liked their music by-the-numbers and the emotions all glossy. Too bad. A lot of good, and maybe near great, Alt. Country groups, like Whiskeytown, came and went with barely any notice, except from the occasional non-Country music critic. Fat lot of good it did them.
Whiskeytown's volatile frontman, Ryan Adams hit the solo road following his band's demise. His first effort, "Heartbreaker," another Alt. Country album (some people are slow on the uptake) was a musically compelling but a lyrically depressing collection (critics loved it) that failed to register.
Losing the gloom and turning more toward Rock, Adams recorded the L.A. (the North Carolina native's residence) influenced "Gold" in '01. The album featured "New York, New York" (yeah, it's supposed to be about L.A.), "Firecracker" and "Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard."
"Demolition" came a year later.
Anyone who appears on their album cover holding an electric guitar had better be prepared to deliver. '03 release "Rock N Roll" does just that. Adams released the acoustic oriented twin EPs "Love Is Hell - Part 1 & 2" in late '03 and early '04. Then he managed to break his wrist falling off the stage during a Liverpool concert.
'05 was a busy one for Adams. During the year, he and his band, the Cardinals, put out the Country-oriented "Jacksonville City Nights." There was also the acoustic - piano/guitar - leaning "29" and the double album "Cold Roses," which fell in the middle.
Adams spent much of '06 touring the U.S. and Europe. He and the Cardinals took time out to work on Willie Nelson's "Songbird." Adams produced and the Cardinals played. The album received tepid reviews.
The following year, Adams revealed that he had beaten addiction. He said that he routinely snorted heroin cut with cocaine, took speedballs and abused alcohol and pills. Given his work ethic and prolific nature, the news came as a surprise, though it probably accounts for some of his more laidback efforts. Adams credited his girlfriend Jessica Joffe and Alcoholics Anonymous for getting him through the ordeal. "Easy Tiger" hit that summer.
Adams released the EP "Follow The Lights" in '07 and reunited with the Cardinals the next year for "Cardinology." But that didn't last. He quit the Cardinals in '09. "I have absolutely no idea what the future holds," said guitarist Neal Casal. "The Cardinals were the best band I've ever been in, and I would love to play with them again."
Adding to the ambiguity was Adams marriage to actress Mandy Moore and the Cardinals (sans Adams) work backing New Zealand singer-songwriter Gin Wigmore on her full-length debut album "Holy Smoke."
"I encouraged Ryan to go and get married, and have a life and find some peace," said Cardinal drummer Brad Pemberton. "The guy hasn't really slowed down in ten years, and he needed it as much as we did."
Adams first post-Cardinals effort was '10's Metal influenced "Orion" which was released on vinyl and online through Adams' PAX AM label. Later in the year, tracks recorded during the "Easy Tiger" sessions (but not included on the album) became "Cardinals III/IV."
For a Judd Apatow hosted charity gig (826LA.org, an L.A. based non-profit that supports creative writing by school aged children), Adams gave his first "official" show since leaving the Cardinals. He went on stage backed by the Ryan Adams Band which consisted of former Cardinal keyboardist Jamie Candiloro, bassist Sebastian Steinberg and drummer Marshall Vore.
Adams' next effort stood in stark contrast to "Orion." Recorded in Hollywood, the acoustic ballad oriented "Ashes & Fire," arrived in October, '11.
Adams was nominated for the '12 Brit Award for Best International Male but lost to Bruno Mars. Later in the year, he released a live box set entitled "Live After Deaf."
In what might seem an odd pairing, Adams teamed with Fall Out Boy for the '13 release "Pax Am Days," an eight song mini-album recorded at Adams' Pax AM studios in Hollywood.
After battling a career-threatening inner ear disorder, Meniere's disease, with hypotherapy and medical marijuana, Adams carried on with a '14 self-titled album that sold 45,000 copies in its first week to land at #4 on the Billboard 200.
Another live set rolled out in '15. "Live At Carnegie Hall" chronicled a pair of career spanning acoustic performances with songs from '00's "Heartbreaker" and '01's "Gold" to Adams' self-titled '14 effort. The set list included fan favorites and two previously unreleased songs, "This Is Where We Meet In My Mind" and "How Much Light."
Recorded the previous November (15th & 17th), "Live At Carnegie Hall" contained over 40 songs. The album's initial vinyl pressing sold out so the label, PAX-AM/Blue Note, initiated a second run.
A condensed version, "Ten Songs From Live At Carnegie Hall," was also available.
During his career, Adams had covered Alice In Chains, Oasis and Vampire Weekend, but his next project surprised even long-time fans - a complete remake of Taylor Swift's "1989" album.
The story goes back to '12 when Swift asked Adams to write a song with her for the "Red" album. The track didn't make the set but Adams was fascinated by Swift's writing process and that led to recording his own version of Swift's first pure pop album.
To promote his version of "1989," Adams was the first musical guest on Comedy Central's Daily Show with Trevor Noah (taking over from Jon Stewart). He performed Swift's "Bad Blood" and "Style." A third song was a web-only track "Blank Space."
The album debuted at #7 on the Billboard 200 chart, one slot ahead of Swift's original, which had already been on the chart for 48 weeks. After being criticized, repeatedly, Adams claimed he would never cover another full album again.
A 'traditional' Adams album, "Prisoner," dropped in late '16 with the singles "Do You Still Love Me?" and "To Be Without You."
2003 Rock N' Roll
2004 Love Is Hell
2005 Cold Roses (w/ The Cardinals)
2005 Jacksonville City Nights (w/ The Cardinals)
2006 Easy Tiger (w/ The Cardinals),
2007 Follow The Lights (w/ The Cardinals)
2008 Cardinology (w/ The Cardinals)
2010 Cardinals III/IV
2011 Ashes & Fire
2012 Live After Deaf
2013 Pax Am Days (w/ Fall Out Boy)
2014 Ryan Adams
2015 Live At Carnegie Hall
With a musical chameleon like Ryan Adams (he's even dabbled in Hip-Hop) it's tempting to catalog the influences or styles on a particular album and call it good.
With nods toward Neil Young, Gram Parsons and Bob Dylan, among others, and employing various genres including Rock n' Roll, Alt. Country, Alt. Rock and Country Rock, Adams relays his own unique voice and vision.