This album was written and recorded before any of the other 2005 releases, at the time when Ryan was nearing his 30th birthday (hence '29', it's an album about growth) while he was recovering from his broken wrist. He's said that it's a concept album, basically about one guy who commits suicide and is looking back on the actions in his life. I'm not sure how well the album fits his theory, but there are plenty of tales within these songs.
It's an intimate album, best listened to with headphones in a quiet place. His voice is close and there's an ambience, a certain atmosphere to many of the songs as we hear these world-weary lyrics played out to music. The rock & roll '29' is a bit of a red herring in terms of sound, as we have the introspective 'Strawberry Wine' come after. It is succeeded by several more quiet, piano-led songs, telling wistful tales of love, heart-break and life. 'Blue Sky Blues' and 'Nightbirds' are songs to lovers, about carrying on, 'Elizabeth...' is apparently written for a friend of Ryan's whose baby daughter died before birth. The only other song that doesn't fit this trend is 'The Sadness', which is a bit of a bizarre inclusion; Ryan sounds more like Freddie Mercury than the heart-broken troubador we're used to hearing.
My personal favourites on the album are '29', 'Blue Sky Blues' and 'Carolina Rain'. All of these songs tell a story though, and it's worth listening just to hear the narratives as they play through.
The Ethan Johns/ Ryan Adams pairing once again produces an excellent album, with a suitable sheen for the material on here. I feel that the album needs to be listened to properly, to be taken in and appreciated. It's a grower, but the one track I can't seem to get into is 'Strawberry Wine'. It's not Ryan's best material to date, but it's still a good album. Give it time.