Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker

Andrew Mueller

By Andrew Mueller

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

After three albums with cultishly adored alt country troupe Whiskeytown, it was widely appreciated that Ryan Adams was a smart, literate songwriter and a distinctive singer. However, Heartbreaker, Adams '2000 solo debut, marked the moment at which the artists he'd already been compared to — Bob Dylan, Paul Westerberg, Steve Earle, Gram Parsons — began to seem less like useful reference points and more like Adams 'peer group.

Ryan Adams’ masterpiece?

Though Heartbreaker was only the beginning of what has been a prolific and enthralling solo career, it seems some way more than likely that it will be recalled as Adams 'masterpiece. Every note and breath here is suffused with swaggering confidence. The album's weird start — an obscure argument about Morrissey with collaborator David Rawlings, followed by a false start to the opening track — can only be intended to evoke Dylan's double-take on "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream." The song that follows, the swinging bluegrass romp "To Be Young," doesn't disgrace the association.

It is, though, a somewhat misleading opening bid. The rest of Heartbreaker is a match for the title, a collection of exquisitely mournful ballads to which Adams 'careworn croon catalogues the wreckage of a relationship, and articulates with wracking plausibility the ensuing derangement. "Why Do They Leave?," "Winding Wheel" and "Oh My Sweet Carolina" — the last of which is haunted by Emmylou Harris's backing vocals — are impeccable examples of the sort of monologues that the deserted deliver to indifferent bartenders. "Come Pick Me Up" and "Damn, Sam (I Love A Woman That Rains)," meanwhile, are gorgeous, wry exercises in doing what country music does best: wringing comedy, bleak though it may be, from tragedy.