Ryan Adams - 29

With the prolific nature of Ryan Adams' songwriting exemplified in the fact this is his third album of 2005, to compare '29' to any previous work would verge on the futile.

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Released 20 Dec 2005 | Lost Highway | By Emma Swann | Rating: 3-5
Ryan Adams - 29

With the prolific nature of Ryan Adams' songwriting exemplified in the fact this is his third album of 2005, to compare '29' to any previous work would verge on the futile. Drifting between the Americana rock of 'Gold' and the slower, piano led sound of debut 'Heartbreaker' via the anomaly of 'Rock N' Roll' (although sounds from this are heard elsewhere in his work), '29' does, on the whole, sit nearer the latter: this is not an upbeat album.

Title track '29' opens proceedings, and alongside 'The Sadness' immediately stands out. Not for any quality difference, more that these are the sole uptempo songs on the album. A 70s tinged rock n' roll effort (not to be confused with anything found on 'Rock N' Roll'), it kicks the collection off with a start: all Rolling Stones and Americana fused together, with the suitably placed drug and alcohol references. These are continued with 'Strawberry Wine'; in which the main themes of the album seem to congregate: substances, love, and a sense of despair.

Adams' use of these themes may seem derivative at times, Starlite Diner' containing the lyrics "Is it possible to love someone too much?/You bet", and much can be made of the influence of Americana on his work ('Strawberry Wine''s alcoholism, 'Blue Sky Blues'' imagery), and with so many characters spread across the album, the question of whether Adams actually knew these people crops up. Yet, with the innate emotion in his voice 'Voices', 'Carolina Rain', it's easier to believe him than otherwise: whether he's invented them is irrelevant; he's felt the emotion he's portraying.

'The Sadness', one of the two fast paced tracks takes influence from Hispanic culture, sounding somewhere between a Western film soundtrack and flamenco dance, yet manages to sound neither contrived nor gimmicky. The most powerful track on '29', Adams uses his wailing vocals to full effect, sounding both pained and angry simultaneously.

This album as a whole isn't an easy listen, and to the uninitiated could become dull; bar 'The Sadness' and to a lesser extent 'Starlite Diner' there are no choruses to speak of, just constant verse about the tragic characters he loves to describe. What's more, only the ethereal 'Night Birds' and dark 'Starlite Diner' are under five minutes in length: there are no pop sensibilities here. Nonetheless, for those who enjoyed the 'Love Is Hell' duology, '29' could well prove worthwhile.