The Ones That Got Away

2001's Americana poster boy sure was busy: A year after Ryan Adams' band Whiskeytown released their damn fine final album, he pops out two more--solo--as if he'd had 'em stored up all along. Coasting on the dubious endorsement of Elton John and the timely, lively tribute of "New York, New York," the second album Gold is a good emulation of worthy sources (the usual alt-country suspects of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison and the Stones). But although Gold may be the album that brought Adams more attention, there's less of him in it. He's self-consciously posing at a modeling shoot, whereas his first solo album Heartbreaker comes more like a beery talk into the wee hours at a smoky bar.

"The empty bottle misses you/and I'm the one that its talkin' to," he rasps, trembling with the woozy ache of every whiskey finger. His voice is rough and the instrumentation is for the most part sparse, yet Heartbreaker is powerfully more immediate than its younger brother. The title is appropriate--Adams' restless youth is tinged with such bitter knowledge of love struggle and loss that the songs just beg for someone to buy the guy a drink. One of the most deeply personal albums of the year, Heartbreaker captures all the wounded vitality of its country roots while establishing Adams' talent as distinctly his own.

--Greg Bloom

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