Three albums in 2005, six in the four years prior, countless curios in between—Ryan Adams, self-styled bard of the East Village, releases material at a maniacal pace. This is, of course, a boon for obsessives, a burden for amateurs, and, presumably, a pain for his record label. And yet there’s no greatest-hits package, likely because amid the perpetual songwriting, he’s had no time to reflect. Below, select cuts from his Brobdingnagian catalogue.
“Starlite Diner,” from 29 (2005)
What happens after you hang out with Elton John—a tasteful piano ballad about addiction, romantic and otherwise. Thoughtful, even.
“A Kiss Before I Go,” from Jacksonville City Nights (2005)
An Orbison-esque confection from his most vibrant, tactile, and invested album.
“My Heart Is Broken,” from Jacksonville City Nights
At root, Adams is a classicist, as evinced on this old-fashioned cheatin’ moan: “My days are empty / My nights are long / Five cups of coffee / For the years gone wrong.”
“Easy Plateau,” from Cold Roses (2005)
Thanks to the dignity of the slide guitar, a rare, precious example of restraint in the Adams catalogue.
“Hotel Chelsea Nights,” from Love Is Hell Pt. 2 (2003)
A version of “Purple Rain” that swaps out Paisley Park’s sultriness for the cheap-beer stink of where Sid killed Nancy.
“Anybody Wanna Take Me Home,” from Rock N Roll (2003)
A post-punk love song, which is to say lonely, skittish, scorning the object of affection as a seduction strategy.
“Desire,” from Demolition (2002)
From his sloppiest “album”—a demo collection, really—an arrestingly stark dirge that channels Jeff Buckley, with desperation bolstered by a jolt of raspy, surly harmonica.
“Nervous Breakdown,” from Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three (2002)
As impassioned as anything he’s done. Offers proof that he can be motivated by something beyond his own misery.
“Harder Now That It’s Over,” from Gold (2001)
“Harder now that it’s over / Now that the cuffs are off”: A compassionate note to an ex? A war in the offing? A Clyde lamenting his Bonnie?
“Lovesick Blues,” from Timeless, a Hank Williams tribute (2001)
His cover of Oasis’s “Wonderwall” is better known, but this sounds like he holed himself in a dank back room somewhere to practice Williams’s yodel, never expecting the tape to leak.
“My Winding Wheel,” from Heartbreaker (2000)
This taunt to an elusive lover is both an argument for Adams as a great vocalist and a suggestion of a muse far beyond vintage country: Garfunkel.
“Shakedown on 9th Street,” from Heartbreaker
Clamorous and sassy, and without his trademark petulance, this is Elvis-worthy boogie.