Studio Album by released in 2005

29 review

Each track on 29 summarizes one year of Ryan Adams’ twenties

It seems that, for the first time in his 10-year career, Ryan Adams' release schedule has finally caught up with his prolific output. With almost no information supplied by Adams, the advance publicity for 29 – the rootsy crooner's third album this year – amounted to a hotchpotch of internet rumor. It was claimed there were nine songs at nine minutes apiece, and the record was rumored to be either a muted footnote to a remarkably productive year, or a contender for album of the year. Adams offered a single comment to the effect that each track (there are indeed nine, but only Strawberry Wine approaches nine minutes) summarizes one year of his twenties. As opposed to the two previous releases of 2005 that Ryan recorded with his band the Cardinals, 29 is a solo album of all new and original material. Ranging from the downtrodden and dark to the upbeat and hopeful, 29 delves far deeper into this songwriter’s mind and reveals more about him than any previous release has. This is not easy listening, yet he's never made a more beautiful album.

The lyrics are full of connections and image-laden metaphors

The lyrics have no needless profanity or lazy choruses. Rather, they’re full of connections and image-laden metaphors that make the album feel like a tightly cohesive work. Accompanied by delicate piano and acoustic guitar, these nighttime laments echo the brittle chill of the season. If the upbeat title song's resemblance to the Grateful Dead's Truckin' is too blatant, the conjuring of Todd Rundgren on Night Birds, Neil Young on Strawberry Wine, and Paul Simon on Starlite Diner resonates as tender homage to artists who also made their mark in their twenties. The thick, elegiac Night Birds is 29's most memorable track, and one of Adams' better vocal performances, as he moans over hollow piano riffs, lamenting all the stagnation and hopelessness of being 26. The pedal steel-riddled Carolina Rain follows in the country-travelogue footsteps of Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights, all railway lines, fried eggs, southern cities, and freight cars teeming with granite. The Sadness is full of wiggly, Ennio Morricone-inspired spaghetti western guitar, while Elizabeth, You Were Born to Play That Part is a piano-and-vocals meditation on loss and depression. Stunning closer Voices sees Adams employing Biblical players to convey proper despondency.

Adams finally embraces his lyrical potential with graceful, fragile accompaniment

Produced by Ethan Johns (who worked with Adams on 2000's Heartbreaker and 2001's Gold), 29 is an eerily apt encapsulation of country-trotting, post-collegiate confusion, and flitting relentlessly between styles, moods and cities. 29 is like neither this year’s Cold Roses nor Jacksonville City Nights, and while it references Adams’ previous work, the album is a wholly new artistic statement from the prolific musician. On this album, Adams finally embraces his lyrical potential with graceful, fragile accompaniment. While he recorded it as the first of his three albums this year, releasing it last makes it his defining statement. This is the death of Ryan Adams, the over-prolific and misguided, and at the ripe old age of 29, the birth of Ryan Adams, the craftsman, the artist. By undertaking outfits that others would automatically sound pretentious in, 29 underlines the notion that Adams is cut from a very traditional cloth of American songwriters – one that seems ever closer to extinction.