Monday morning brought the release of Ryan Adams’ cover album of Taylor Swift’s “1989”. As a fan of Ryan Adams, and a closet fan of “Shake It Off”, I had been looking forward to this for a while. As I did my routine morning scroll through Facebook, I noticed a few people (mostly Millennials but not all) were wondering who the hell Ryan Adams was.
I know this isn’t nearly as bad as the people who had never heard of Beck after he won a Grammy and the ones who were wondering who that Paul McCartney guy was that Kanye was collaborating with. But, still, I thought most people were familiar with him. He’s had a few radio hits, has been consistently putting out critically acclaimed albums throughout the 00’s, and he’s constantly on tour. Well, now I feel like a hipster, so I’m going to give you an introduction to Ryan Adams. Going album by album would be a bit daunting since he has many records, so I’m going to take a shorter approach than I did with Faith No More.
My first experience of Ryan Adams occurred shortly after 9/11. On September 7th, 2001, Ryan Adams shot a video for “New York, New York”, a track off his soon to be released “Gold” album. The song is a loving tribute to NYC and the video just so happened to feature shots of Adams performing the song with the World Trade Center in full view. Well, talk about the right song at the right time. The song and video became a hit, and it was nice to have a, “Hell yeah, New York City!” while the nation recovered and before we entered the dark period of “THESE COLORS DON’T RUN” country songs.
“Gold” is probably as good a spot as any to start with Ryan Adams.
His sound is a little alternative rock and a little country/folk. Think Wilco but with a little more pep. From there, I’d recommend “Love and Hell Parts 1 & 2”. WAIT! It’s not a bloated double album. It’s two EPs put together and clocks in a few minutes over an hour. “City Rain, City Streets” and “Hotel Chelsea Nights” are some of Adams’ best songs, but this album is probably most famous for his cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall”. Adams slows the song down and sings the melody in a slightly modified way to sound more melancholy. The notoriously fickle Noel Gallagher liked the cover so much that he has been performing it the Ryan Adams way ever since then. “We’ve never got it right. It’s too slow or too fast. I think Ryan Adams is the only person who ever got that song right.”
From there, you can go in several directions.
Adams released a few albums with a band called the Cardinals that are a little more on the rock side. You could stick with his solo albums which continue the alternative country pattern. If you want to get nuts, check out “1984”, an album of punk songs he wrote and recorded for fun.
Ryan Adams, in my opinion, is one of the few artists whose cover songs are almost always better than the originals. Across his discography, you can find covers of Alice In Chains (“Down In A Hole”), Iron Maiden (“Wasted Years”), and, yes, even Bryan Adams (“Run To You”). Pro-tip, just don’t shout Bryan Adams at one of his shows. Ryan hates that shit. It’s a cheap joke that has been stretched way too thin at this point.
Coming back around to Swift, this is why we were excited about the prospect of Ryan Adams covering the entire “1989” album. His covers are usually really good, and the idea of him covering an entire Taylor Swift album in his style sounded like it would be really good.
And it is.