The harmonies are present and correct. The melodies are great, the musicianship as excellent as you would expect but there is some intangible thing missing that stops me giving this album the full five stars “I love it” accolade. Maybe it’s the absence of Mark Olson, I don’t know. I’m three listens in now and it certainly grows on you but I am just a bit dis-quieted by the fuzzy guitar work on tracks such as ‘Lost the summer’ – although the song is uplifted by the chorus. Also on tracks such as ‘Lovers of the sun’, there is a vital edge missing on what is still a beautiful song that almost but doesn’t quite edge into blandness. Rather like 2000’s ‘Smile’ there may be a hint of over-production, and those who prefer the stripped down Jayhawks sound may find this album suffers from that. I believe I am in a minority who actually loved ‘Smile’ so am willing to go with the production ideas for this album but on track’s like ‘Ace’, again with a fuzzy distorted sound a potentially great song is hidden from view by the electronica and discordant keyboards. Shame. That I still find enough here to award four stars shows that there must be some wheat amongst the chaff and in my opinion this is found on the last 5 tracks from ‘Devil is in her eyes’ onwards where indeed a lot of the production tricks are laid aside and the songs are allowed to flourish and excellent songs they are as well. All in all not up there with their very best but still better than most of the competition.
Ryan Adams self-titled 14th album is further evidence that the South Carolina troubadour has not entirely managed to resolve the erratic quality issues which have plagued the more substance dependent phases of his career. It appears that Adams was on course to release what was “Ashes & Fire Part II” an album produced by Glyn Johns that he scrapped at the eleventh hour as “too sad to release”. Instead Adams has now set forth this self-produced album, which is a mix of rockers, and acoustic songs some from the top drawer, others could see him paying royalties to Tom Petty. Songs like “Stay with Me”” are firmly in the latter category and almost a pastiche. It is the type of workmanlike heartland rock peddled on the lacklustre “Cardinology”. In a similar vein “Feels like fire” is Adams on cruise control with a very standard backdrop, whilst the jury is still out on the heavy reverb chords of “I Just Might”. The single “Gimme Something Good” does improve on repeated listens although by no means a classic. “Kim” alternatively is a belter. A medium paced rocker with a beautifully subtle song structure and excellent lyrics. Equally the two straightforward acoustic numbers remind you about why Ryan Adams is so special. “My Wrecking Ball” is the sort of heartbreaking lament with that is his trademark. Similarly the last song “Lets Go” is wondrous in its acoustic simplicity with a warm vocal by the master. Of the rockier tracks, it is slow burn of “Shadows” that impresses most. When all the elements come together in songs like the Fleetwood Mac sounding “Am I Safe” you sense that Adams might be seeking an audience well beyond the aficionado’s of alt-country.