Oh My Sweet Carolina – Ryan Adams // Buy
With its title inspired by a Mariah Carey poster and its content rich with the sorrow of a painful break up, Heartbreaker isn’t just a phenomenal first album, its an intricate, intimate dissection of a man’s emotional vulnerability. Ryan Adams’ (@theryanadams) first solo record is an outpouring of heart and soul, leather bound and steeped in Tennessee’s finest malt.
Often praised as his best work (a statement to which I agree), I keep coming back to Heartbreaker because it’s the first real connection I had with music. Prior to hearing this album, I had the tendency to stay within the confines of my friends’ taste. After finding this gem in my library’s music section, though, everything changed. I not only found myself falling in love with the way music can resonate within, but I found myself opening up to a whole new universe of artists of whom I was previously unaware.
Ten years on, and I still find that the bond between myself and this album is just as strong and passionate as ever. If anything, it’s become even more precious to me with time, progressively ascending to become more than just an album. To me, it’s a time machine, a key, a confidante, a comfort and so much more.
For starters, any album that opens with an argument regarding Morrissey records gets a metaphysical high five from me. Directly after that tet-a-tet, Heartbreaker rolls right into the uplifting, anthemic “To Be Young”, which musically pushes all the right buttons with its jaunty blues/rock rhythm. Once the dust settles on that roaring start, the album continues with the six string finger-picking and pitch-bending of “My Winding Wheel”, which serve as a beautiful background to the song’s optimistic outlook and country charm.
Though these brighter, wide-eyed moments hit all the right notes, the heart and soul of the album lies firmly within the more emotional moments, of which there are many. “Oh My Sweet Carolina” is one of the finest expressions of sorrow and regret you’ll ever hear on wax, chronicling losing yourself and searching for salvation at the bottom of a bottle, amongst other places. The soft, sweeping nature of the track bares Adams’ fragility for all to see, and the honesty of the content, the way it’s woven through a simple yet effective narrative, really demonstrates his skills as a songwriter.
The narrative of the album as a whole, though, is what truly highlights his panache at crafting stories and songs. Tracks like “Come Pick Me Up” and “Why Do They Leave?” finely reflect the dislocated, angry and embittered end of a break-up, while tracks such as “Amy” show Adams clinging to what little remains of his love with a mix of regret and blind hope. As a 17 year old boy discovering girls and romance for the first time, I wallowed in this, embracing every ounce of pain. As a 26 year old man, I still romanticize the lovelorn lyrics, but with more empathy than before. Adams’ ability to project from different view points, to tap into incredibly raw emotional chambers and slide with consistency across the musical spectrum, gives Heartbreaker an incredible depth and range that most artists will never achieve.
On top of this emotional impact, the album boasts a bumper crop of intelligent and well engineered songs stitched together with a collection of traditional instruments that prick your ear, steal your heart and suck you in. Burning with intensity and passion, Heartbreaker is country folk at it’s finest. It’s the kind of record that can inspire, empathize and empower all at the same time, which these days is a pretty rare thing.
After wavering slightly with his sci-fi inspired metal record Orion, Adams returned to form last year with his ninth solo album Ashes and Fire. The record did well commercially and critically, with reviewers claiming it to be his best work for some time. Currently, he’s prepping for a set of live performances across Europe in April and May, and if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, he’s also due to release his third book Phoenix later this year.
For those of you who love the style and sound of Ryan Adams, take some time to focus on his influences. Artists such The Smiths, The Grateful Dead and The Velvet Underground are certainly viable inspirations for his more extroverted material. If you’re searching for something with a more direct correlation, though, then look no further than the likes of Gram Parsons, John Gorka and, of course, Bob Dylan.
Influence goes both ways, though, and since his arrival Adams’ offbeat brand of folk-inspired songwriting has made it’s way into the arms and ideas of many other artists. One in particular, Laura Marling, a fantastic singer songwriter from the UK, has not only been inspired by Adams’ work but has also name dropped him in her 2008 song “New Romantic”. Not to mention, she enlisted long time Adams collaborator Ethan Jones to produce her last album A Creature I Dont Know.
Although he’s only been a solo artist for just over ten years now, Ryan Adams’ influence has certainly spread with gusto. As a new generation of folk-inspired troubadours look to weave tales of lost love and life’s observations, you can expect his inspiration to carry on for a good while.