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music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Gold

Artist: Ryan Adams
Genre: Rock
Release Date: September 2001

Review by LarryG
3 stars out of 4

Since breaking up his band Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams has moved away from alt country towards a mainstream rock sound. On Gold, Adams confidently sought a classic sound. He did a lot of 70s style songwriter based country rock but also tried other styles. He was generally successful. The songs have a classic feel and simplicity. They don't have much new to say and they're often more familiar than exciting or interesting but with the exception of a few misfires where Adams works outside his comfort zone, Gold is impressively deep with strong, varied songs.

Gold starts very well with Adams' first mainstream hit: New York, New York. New York, New York got attention because of the timing of its release and its eerie video, filmed September 7th, showing Adams singing in front of a view of New York's downtown skyline centered on the Twin Towers. New York, New York is so likable that it deserved to be a hit no matter when it came out. New York, New York has buoyant guitars and keyboards playing Allman Brothers style riffs while Adams' loose, rapid fire delivery evokes Dylan's Tangled Up In Blue. Adams' flood of words is very charming. He pays tribute to his adopted home but decides that, since his memories of the city are so intertwined with those of the love that broke his heart, it's time to go.

The rest of Gold doesn't quite grab your attention like New York, New York but it's filled with strong songs. Especially in Gold's first half, Adams' music is very appealing. The songs are sometimes pleasant or soothing rather than remarkable but they're very likable. With upbeat keyboards and Adams playing harmonica, Firecracker is slight but very winning. Adams tells a woman that he wants to "be your baby tonight" and warns her that while "everybody wants to go forever, I just wanna burn up hard and bright." On Answering Bell, Adams is largely successful trying to recreate a Van Morrison song like Tupelo Honey or Crazy Love. Banjo, slide guitar and a guest vocal from Counting Crows' Adam Duritz create a good, easy mood while Adams apologizes and tries to cheer up his girl. The lyrics to La Cienega Just Smiled are a little self dramatizing. Presumably referring to a woman and an illicit substance, Adams sings "either way I'm dead . . . one breaks my body and the other breaks my soul." But La Cienega Just Smiled, with minimal guitar, drums and keyboards, is generally appealingly subdued. Adams tried to create a classic soul sound on a few of Gold's songs. He was largely successful on The Rescue Blues. With a stark sound filled out by good bluesy guitar fills and gospel style female backup singers, The Rescue Blues nearly achieves a transcendent sound. On Somehow, Someday, Adams takes on the smooth, cocky voice of a singer like Dwight Yoakam. Somehow, Someday is a likable, easy country rocker with a good jangly guitar line. It's another song about how Adams still loves and wishes he was with the New York woman who dumped him and still thinks he can get her back. When The Stars Go Blue is a quiet, moving song that's since been elegantly covered by The Corrs and Bono. Adams' sad pledge to follow you where "you go when you're lonely" is underlined by strings and a simple piano and guitar.

At its midpoint, Gold largely shifts from the modest, carefully constructed songs of its first half to more bloated, less interesting work. On Nobody Girl, Adams' flat, detached voice reminds of Lou Reed's on Loaded's New Age. The music has the sad, deliberate feel of The Band's The Weight or The Rolling Stones' Wild Horses. But as the nearly ten minute long Nobody Girl keeps dragging on, its cool, relaxed pace becomes tiresome. Adams seems a little too impressed with his writing, referring to a "they" who don't care about the girl but hiply dismissing her himself. Sylvia Plath, with Adams singing quietly and longingly over his piano, is kind of sweet. The song, which wishes he had a woman like the doomed writer, is also unavoidably pretentious and a little bizarre as Adams romanticizes a life of cigarettes, drinking and pills. Enemy Fire is stupidly excessive. Power chords and drum beats crash as Adams equates a contentious relationship with war. He charmingly tells his partner: "learn how to change and maybe I could stay." Adams wisely lightens things up for Gonna Make You Love Me. Adams' typical confidence is justified by the charm of Gonna Make You Love Me's light shuffle. He tells her that the more things happen, the more endearing she'll find him and brags "faith can keep you warm but I'll teach you how to shake." Gold has a few quiet ballads that are pleasant, if a little vague, but especially towards the end of a long CD that usually works hard to ingratiate, it's hard to retain the focus necessary to pay attention to such modest, slow moving songs. Wildflowers sweetly sympathizes with a woman who's had bad luck in life and love. Harder Now That It's Over doesn't develop much beyond its provocative concept of a girlfriend released from prison after committing a crime for which the narrator bares some responsibility. Then come a couple songs where Adams' confidence in appropriating classic styles seems to cross the line to arrogance. The slow, gospel tinged R&B of Touch, Feel & Lose puts Adams in the role of the Al Green/Wilson Pickett/Marvin Gaye style lover man who's been wounded by a cruel lover but is still very cool. Tina Toledo's Street Walkin' Blues is soul flavored boogie very much like something by John Fogerty or The Stones' Gimme Shelter. Both songs are passable reconstructions but they feel presumptuous, unoriginal and unnecessary.

Ryan Adams is a very promising artist who should be making good, interesting records for a long time. Calling his CD Gold, Adams had the self assurance to promise a record full of classics and came close to delivering. Gold is a sprawling 16 song, 70 minute CD that can seem even longer because each so song is so carefully constructed. Adams has a gift for writing simple pop ballads and country rock songs and has an admirable desire to try new styles. At times, Adams doesn't quite have the talent and maturity to carry off his ambitious agenda and sometimes his simple songs are a little too simple but mostly Gold is well written, enjoyable listening.



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