Top critical review
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Concise, brooding album
on 12 May 2010
This is a relatively short album for Ryan Adams, featuring only 9 songs, though that's not really a surprise given that it was his third release of 2005! It's a sort of concept album about the end of his twenties and after the misfire of the chug-along title track we settle into acoustic territory with the Neil Young sounding Strawberry Wine. The song features some interesting lyrical musings: "can you still have any famous last words if you're somebody nobody knows... she spent too much time on the other side and she forgot to let the daylight in" over a plain, simply strummed acoustic guitar.
Nightbirds is darker, a miserable yet soaring piano-led tune, with the downbeat observation in the chorus "we were supposed to rise above but with we sink into the ocean". The playing on this song is quite lovely, particularly when a gentle electric guitar enters the mix, though towards the end the song descends into masses of echo and reverb, presumably for dramatic effect. Blue Sky Blues is in a similar vein, as Adams laments "cos I'm gonna lose what's left of my mind" over piano, horns and a beautiful string part.
Carolina Rain provides welcome relief after the drama of the previous 2 tracks, where Adams is no longer sitting up in his bedroom looking out at the rain, but sitting in a diner. He's back in country mode here, with a relaxed melody and a great achey vocal aided by steel guitar and subtle honky tonk piano (yes there is such a thing!) and humorous lyrics ("I should have told him that you were the one for me, but I lied... too weird I met your sister and I married her in July, but if only to be closer to you Caroline").
After another piano ballad (Starlite Diner) we get the faux western sounding The Sadness which has a great over the top Spanish guitar and soaring vocals from Adams. The final two tracks, the wonderfully titled piano song Elizabeth, You Were Born To Play That Part and the acoustic guitar led Voices return to the mood of the previous material, that is brooding and reflective, though Voices is not helped by a somewhat strangled vocal.
It's a strange little album, not overtly country like his other 2 albums that year (Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights), and a lot shorter. It's more concise and all the better for it.