While releasing three new albums in a year is quite a bold move, Ryan Adams’ track record in recent years should mean his prolific output levels makes for are a string of welcome appearances in the release dates listings. Returning without the Cardinals in tow this time, Adams changes his sound once again, parading a different side to his diversity by going for a largely more stripped down, piano-based setup that flirts with melancholia.
Starting matters off misleadingly, however, is the rhythm’n'blues rocker 29, and although its melody line is blatantly lifted from the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’,” Adams packs it with verve, making it enough of a effective outing to let him away with any accusations of pilfering. However, on the eight-minute-long “Strawberry Wine,” it seems that the borrowing of elements isn’t going to be isolated to the title track, as here and elsewhere there are a number of vocal bends adopted directly from Ray Davies (you may also recognize the guitar slide on “The Sadness”).
Regardless, while perhaps being a little overdrawn, its storytelling narrative begins a nice run of refined yet sparse quality, brandishing highlights in the form of the starkly beautiful “Night Birds” – which has all the flavour of a modern jazz singer’s composition – and the laid back country breeze of “Carolina Rain.”
Though clocking up to a total of 49 minutes, the nine tracks that make up 29 feels decidedly shorter than that, and chiefly responsible for such an impression is the choice to settle for a lightly-played piano and an occasional touch of strings on the majority of arrangements. Even the over-the-top “The Sadness” (which sounds like it considers itself to be some kind of Tex-Mex epic) attempts in vain to break up the run of sameness, but just sounds silly and out of place; and so by the time we reach “Voices,” it’s become a little too late to distinguish what’s on offer from the album’s earlier incarnations.
Ultimately, Adams’ third effort of the year may be one just for the hardcore collective, but if anything, by undertaking outfits that others would automatically sound pretentious in, 29 underlines the notion that he is cut from a very traditional cloth of American songwriters – one that seems ever closer to extinction.
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