When a North Carolina boy, raised by his Mama and Grandma, is encouraged to read Edgar Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath and Jack Kerouac at a formative age, and listens to the music of Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash, is it any wonder he’d grow up to be a mournful romantic, lost in the twilight of dysfunctional behaviors and hooked on self examination? If ever there was a writer defined by his subject matter and vise versa it is Ryan Adams.
Ryan Adams’ music has always been scented with the sweet melancholy emotions and riffs off country music but is often distilled by the bite of the punk rock he discovered in his teen years. His musical output has been a mix of those two elements with flashes of pure pop-rock tossed in for contrast. The fact is Adams can write the pants off of most of his contemporaries but has trouble knowing when enough is too much. This accounts for the nine released albums over the past seven years (There are others not released). Every release is an adventure in picking out the pearls among the excess.
Easy Tiger is a pleasant ride through memory lane as Adams reflects on his musical past. The finger-plucked “These Girls” could have been found on his debut solo release Heartbreaker. Also in that vein is “Pearls On a String,” a pretty number that sounds part Gillian Welch, part Jayhawks. The strongest influences on this record are classic 70’s jam rock classics. Adams’ recent friendship with Grateful Dead member Phil Lesh has had it’s impact on Adams’ songwriting, especially on “Goodnight Rose.” There’s a pinch of Neil Young, circa Harvest, but more than ever you will hear the ghost of the father of alt-country, Gram Parson, slipping through these new compositions. Interesting that the torch-bearer of Parsons’ sound shares the same birthday, November 5th (Adams was born a year after Parsons’ death).
Again joining Adams is the band that backed him on his past two releases, The Cardinals. Members Brad Pemberton and Neal Casal chip in on songwriting duties and Jon Graboff and Chris Feinstein round out the players. Their performances are tight and feature several great solos but mostly they act as a perfect backdrop to Adams vocals. Adams is mostly lauded as a songwriter but it would be a huge oversight not to mention what a great singer he is. He has the ability to alter his approach to a song in order to offer it a genuine rendering of complimentary emotions. His vocals soar from falsetto to gravelly understatement. His inflection and phrasing is beyond comparison in the contemporary alt country realm. This man knows how to express his mixed up world even if he can’t sort out the way to true happiness.