Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker (Album Review)

After a recent trip to North Carolina, I felt inspired to write about the debut solo album of one of my favorite musicians from the state. Ryan Adams was already pretty known because of his band Whiskeytown. But this was his first attempt at stepping out apart from the band thing and just doing his own music. This is one of my favorite albums of all time because of how vulnerable and iconic every track is. It even works as a concept album – all of these tracks represent the final moments of a breakup and all the variety of emotions that are felt in those final minutes. Ryan Adams is an incredible musician and I wanted to explore the many different reasons why the album holds up 15 years later.

“Come Pick Me Up” is easily my favorite song by him and actually one of my favorite songs of all time. I can’t really explain why it’s stuck with me for so long. The likely reasons are the lyrics are catchy, the music is different, and it’s a song just jam-packed with emotion. When they call your name, will you walk right up with a smile on your face? Or will you cower in fear in your favorite sweater with an old love letter ?” It’s such clever lyrics that quickly turn bitter and hardcore, which is often how a breakup works. Adams captures that pain brilliantly. I love how he uses the harmonica as well, I think it only makes the emotion all the more painful. I love how this song sounds live so I had to pick a video of that.

Another classic track that has always had an impact on me is “Oh My Sweet Carolina.” Part of the reason why it’s so powerful is due to the background vocals from country legend Emmylou Harris. The sweet and strong female vocals adds a quality to the song and makes it all the more fun to listen to. It’s a song best suited for listening to when you’ve had a bad day. It also has a lot to say about longing to be home and all that interesting stuff.

“So buy a pretty dress and wear it out tonight, for all the boys you think could out do me, or better still be my winding wheel,” sings Ryan Adams on yet another memorable song. The lyrics I listed are most notable due to the high quality of the lyrics, how creative and awesome are they? It’s also very obvious that each word he sings comes from the heart. There’s nothing fake or commercial about this guy, he just makes this heartbreaking painful music that obviously come from his own personal experience.

The song “Why Do They Leave?” is simple enough, but the genuine way Adams delivers paints a picture and also causes you to relate to his words much better. He sings, “Rose-colored sunsets, no flowers for me,” simple but it works because he gets his point across. You can feel the loneliness of Adams during this song and that’s what it makes it stand out.

“Amy” is yet another terribly sad track, of course none of these are what you would call happy. However, this one is especially heartbreaking because it feels as if he is pleading this girl to still love him and want to be with him. I like that we have no context about what the relationship is, all we know is that he still loves her. The song is also filled with desperation which is always sad to hear. He sings to Amy, “Oh I love you Amy, do you still love me?” making it one of the saddest endings to any song on this album.

This is an album that everyone should listen to from start to finish at least one time. You’re likely to revisit a few of these tracks countless times, but an album as depressing as this can pretty much only be heard in doses. It’s the album that really showed everyone that Ryan Adams could make it as a solo artist. Although none of his albums have been able to top this one, this is a debut solo album that set the bar impossibly high. He’s still had a remarkable career and in a sense, this is where it all began.

Album review written by Rachel Geiger.

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