First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2007, Volume 14, #8
Written by John Metzger
Thu August 2, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
Artists are notoriously restless spirits, and, in many ways, Ryan Adams has become their poster child. Initially, this manifested itself as recalcitrance, and his erratic behavior caused numerous shifts in Whiskeytown’s line-up. Since going solo — and, thus, putting even more of himself on the line — however, Adams mostly has channeled his energy into his music. Over the course of the past seven years, he has released nine studio efforts, each of which has emphasized a different aspect of his persona. Unwilling to be tied to any particular niche, he ambitiously has oscillated from the roots-y Cold Roses to the hardcore country of Jacksonville City Nights and from the bluster of Rock N Roll to the mope-y Love Is Hell. Although he has taken a singular approach to each endeavor, the sum total, when viewed from afar, appears to be scattered and incoherent.
Always full of surprises, Adams naturally traversed a different path in concocting his latest effort Easy Tiger, but rather than veering off on yet another tangent, he opted instead to deliver a set that was strikingly more conservative. In effect, Easy Tiger is designed to tie up all of the loose ends that he has left strewn about, and into its 12 tracks he has folded aspects of everything that he has accomplished to date. His garage-rock aspirations filter through the ridiculous but irresistible Halloweenhead, while the warble in his voice as he begins singing Goodnight Rose alludes to his recent work with Willie Nelson on Songbird. The latter tune also plucks a series of chord changes from Neil Young, whose influence is equally pervasive on Off Broadway and I Taught Myself How to Grow Old, while Tears of Gold is as straight an alt-country tune as Adams has concocted in years, though it takes a tone that is flavored more by The Jayhawks than it is by Whiskeytown.
Still, taking fewer risks doesn’t come without a tradeoff. On the one hand, Adams has never sounded so mature. Not only has his cocksure bravado given way to convincing, self-assured maturity, but he also has penned a batch of truly terrific material. By contrast, Easy Tiger is so stuffed with mid-tempo fare that portions of it slip by almost too effortlessly. Nevertheless, when he does connect — on the angst-filled The Sun Also Sets or the bluegrass-tinged Pearls on a String, for example — the results are deeply moving and highly revelatory.
Most artists pursuing the sort of strategy that Adams opted to employ for Easy Tiger are in the later stages of their careers. The tactic is meant to reinvigorate interest in once-important stars who long ago lost their way. Considering that he only recently turned 32, it’s a little alarming that Adams already has had to resort to this trick. Given the ground he has covered, however, it increasingly has become necessary for him not only to take stock of where he has been so that he can plot his next move, but also to solidify his base of fans in order to pique the interest of those who have found him too unfocused to tolerate. In the end, Easy Tiger might not contain the best or the boldest work of Adams’ career, but it is precisely the album that he needed to make. ½
Of Further Interest...
Easy Tiger is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box