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Ryan Adams changes genres

Julie Bender | Wednesday, January 21, 2004

In an effort to diversify a musical discography, many artists try to transform their sound from one album to the next. Such transitions tend to have limited success, and more than often, fail miserably. (See Madonna’s shift from ’80s pop goddess to her recent attempts at techno and rap …)With his November release Love is Hell Pt. 1 and the January release of Pt. 2, however, singer/songwriter Ryan Adams has managed the transition gracefully. The former front man of Whiskeytown, Adams has become a notable force in the alt-country genre with albums like Heartbreaker and Gold and, as of late, has been hedging to a straightforward rock sound with the aptly titled Rock N Roll. On the 15 songs that make up the two Love Is Hell EPs, Adams sound is barely recognizable. Far from guitar-laden, staunch rock, the EPs are works of soft, sparse, sad songs. Melancholy piano and gentle guitar fill the tracks on each EP, but most striking are the hauntingly beautiful lyrics. On Pt. 1, “The Shadowlands” is a song of painful hopelessness with lyrics reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman: “With a father on amphetamines / Her mother hides the pearls / Reach out into darkness / And find my little girl.”Adam’s poignant cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” adds a new dimension to the song with its slowed-down gait that gives new emphasis and agony to the beautiful song. “Avalanche” finds Adams in a Jackson Browne state of mind. Piano and tapping drums accompany his words, “I found your photograph in a cardboard box in a magazine / I can’t remember you, remember us or anything / I taught you how to feel, but you just feel numb.” Although a bit more full sounding than Pt. 1, Pt. 2 continues with the same melancholy themes and sounds as its sister EP. Opening the disc is “My Blue Manhattan,” a song that feels as though it is a dusted off remnant of a 1920s piano bar. Jazzy piano progressions and Adams’ interchange of bluesy croons and soft vocals contribute a distinctive flavor to this song.The broken-hearted desolation of “Please Do Not Let Me Go,” carries the slight country feel Adams is noted for with the whine and twang of a background guitar. Adams pleads, “Please do not let me go” in vain as he remembers a “Red suitcase full of clothes / Washed up on a shore of memories.””I See Monsters,” has lovely guitar working that grounds the song from the dream-like elevation of its lyrics. “Colors inside you head go spinning round / Like a ferris wheel / Exploding and falling to the ground,” sings Adams with ghostly phantasmagoria. The collection of songs on these two EPs gives new depth and credibility to Adams as an artist. It is ironic that they were originally shelved by the record company as “not his best work” in favor of the hard sound of Rock N Roll. Adams has the last laugh, however, proving he can twang, he can rock, and, with Love Is Hell, he can mope with the best of them.

Contact Julie Bender at jbender@nd.edu