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Ryan Adams: Heartbreaker

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Ryan Adams

Album: Heartbreaker
Label: Bloodshot

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Just two years ago, Whiskeytown seemed poised to become the next superstar group, relatively speaking, of the alt-country world, mixing the two halves of the country-rock equation with an effectiveness not heard since the heyday of Uncle Tupelo. After two outstanding albums, however, it became a victim of the merger-mania that left orphans of all but the safest acts signed to major labels, its third album apparently completed but tied up in legal limbo. Until Whiskeytown resurfaces, this solo album from punk-gone-country frontman Ryan Adams will more than do. As Adams, with violinist Caitlin Cary, has been among the few constants in Whiskeytown's notoriously unstable lineup, it's tempting to view Heartbreaker as a Whiskeytown album in everything but name. But instead, working with a small lineup that includes Gillian Welch, Adams has recorded an intimate, largely quiet record that indisputably establishes his identity as an independent singer-songwriter. The reservedly joyous "To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high)" starts the album on a note somewhat at odds with the dark, low-key tone that dominates its remainder. With "My Winding Wheel," the wanderlust lament "My Sweet Carolina" (with support from Emmylou Harris), "Damn, Sam (I love a woman that rains)," and others, Adams has crafted a remarkably intimate solo album about, as the title suggests, breaking up and moving on. Someone should give the man his band back and see what he does.