16 years is a long time. But it can also feel like the blink of an eye. It seems like just yesterday that Ryan Adams was a young singer and songwriter, constantly dealing with the confusion that his name caused with another musician, Bryan Adams. In fact, Ryan spent many hours of therapy getting over this connection and the humiliation it brought him early in his career. But he’s finally over that. Ryan and Bryan actually share a birthday too, November 5th, and are good friends now. But that took a long time to happen. 16 years or so.
16 years ago, Ryan Adams released his major label solo debut, Gold. It’s a collection of 16 songs that stand the test of time, mostly because they are influenced by timeless sources. Ryan Adams, a student of music, went into the studio in the summer of 2001 with some heavy hitters, and came out months later with a record that tips the cap perfectly to his many musician heroes, including Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Elton John, just to name a few.
At first listen, Gold seems genuine, much like the pictures on the covers and in the liner notes, which depict a casual Ryan Adams in a loft bedroom apartment, playing records, strumming a guitar, cuddling a woman, and pointing a pistol. But upon further examination you conclude that this isn’t his home, those aren’t his records, his woman or his gun. This is a staged photo shoot. And you have that same realization with closer examination of the music. This isn’t really Ryan Adams. This is an artist, trying to figure out who Ryan Adams is. And he’s been trying to figure it out for about 20 years and about 20 albums.
Gold starts the right way, with the strongest song, “New York, New York”, which quickly got a lot of attention following the release of the album on September 25th 2001, two weeks after the September 11th attacks. The song has a friendly smile and starts down the path of familiarity. It’s a number that feels familiar, like a neighborhood you know well. And Adams keeps name checking places throughout the record. It’s a welcoming smile of a song, or maybe it’s a wink.
Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz makes a guest appearance on some distinct background vocals on a few tracks, particularly the Van Morrison tinged “Answering Bell”. Duritz, Adams’ one time roommate, also appears in the Oz wandering video for the song. Other stand out tracks include the hauntingly beautiful “When the Stars Go Blue”, and the nine minute rocker “Nobody Girl”.
Ryan Adams is generally considered to be a tortured artist, and he’s been willing to show us at least portions of his self and his soul throughout his career. But he’s more of a chameleon than anything else. Gold is about as tolerable a mask as he could ever stand to wear and we could ever stand to look at. He has imitated and covered artists gorgeously over the years, but no one ever really does his songs very well. Because they don’t really know who he is.
Ryan Adams’ Gold: If you’ve never listened to this record, put it on and spend some time. It’s over an hour long mind you. And if you have listened to it before, well, then you know what to do. It’s a four star record and it belongs in most personal collections.