Impossible genius: Why I’d hate Ryan Adams, if only I could

Ryan Adams is kind of a bastard-in the best possible way.

Whereas most musicians have a hard time releasing one solid record every few years (between the rigors of touring, recording, producing and taking time off), Adams, of Whiskeytown and solo fame, has no trouble putting out record after record of infuriating quality and distinction year after year.

So far in 2005 alone, Adams (between the rigors of smoking cigarettes, drinking whiskey and playing poker with The Strokes) and his band, The Cardinals, have released two irritatingly good albums-Cold Roses a few months ago and September’s Jacksonville City Nights-with a third record slated for release Dec. 29.

Adams is a bastard in this way.

He’s the type of prenatally talented songwriter, gifted with a voice more golden than anything Midas ever touched, a heart more broken than Humpty Dumpty’s shell, and for whom music seems to come easier than breathing.

He’s a bastard in the way that a student who never studies then aces the final is a bastard. He’s a bastard as Nick Drake, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix were bastards-too talented to ignore, too persistent to emulate, too dynamic to do anything other than simply sit back and be jealously in awe of.

Jacksonville is a perfect example of Adams’ haphazard genius.

The record is undeniably engaging but unmistakably unrehearsed-a stripped collage of naked slide-guitars, vulnerable country drawls and transient, rambling tone shifts.

In a mini-documentary about the making of the only Adams album to carry the name of his North Carolina hometown, the artist talks about Jacksonville this way:

“It’s a punk rock version of a country record. It’s great energy. It sounds like this is the first time we’ve played these songs. If we played them 20, 30 times live, I would get dull, you guys would get predictable in each other’s parts. We’d get fancy.”

Jacksonville certainly isn’t fancy.

There is a decided lack of ornamentation in this record, much less so than on any of Adams’ previous efforts since 2000’s Heartbreaker. The effect is a jangly sort of intimacy, a stumbling, disarming charm.

Jacksonville succeeds largely because Adams manages to convey in his warbling and longing a sense of morning-after honesty-a type of disheveled inability to be anything other than totally faithful to the burgeoning nature of his songs.

One of the reasons Jacksonville has such a truthful punk-rock sense to it is likely because Adams, when suddenly struck (with characteristic impulsiveness, one night in a bar) by the need to record what would become Jacksonville, had nothing in mind but the urge to make “a truckin'” country album, something along the lines of “bluegrass Hsker Du.”

Adams also had nothing more than some studio time and a pocketful of rumpled song titles without bodies.

What we get, then, on Jacksonville is a documentation of the birth of an album-a record that, at its heart, is very much about the making of a record, flaws, quirks and all.

In the process Adams manages to relate the monumental distance and desire of his youth-a time not dissimilar from that spent on Jacksonville in the sense that all youth is very much concerned with the progression and development of itself.

On “The End”: “I don’t know the sound of my father’s voice/ I don’t even know how he says my name/ But it plays out like a song on the jukebox in a bar …Oh, Jacksonville, how you burn in my soul and how you hold all my dreams captive/ Jacksonville, how you play with my mind/ My heart…”

Mine too.

[email protected]