Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ryan Adams - Side 4

Given that Ryan Adams is one of the most prolific songwriters around, it can be difficult to pare down his catalog for the "best of the best". So, then, it's surprising that one of the very best tidbits of Adams' songwriting in existence is not only officially released, but almost perfect exactly as it was delivered: as a five track bonus EP of pure songwriting goodness.

Originally intended as the end quarter of Gold, and culled from the same sessions, Side 4 consists of five tracks. It was originally released as a bonus disc with the first pressing of Gold, and appears (as intended) as the fourth side of the album's vinyl incarnation. What's so fascinating about this record being the "redheaded stepchild" of the Gold sessions is that it might very well have been the key to winning over Gold's naysayers who longed for the "authenticity" of Heartbreaker.

Side 4 begins with Adams aping the Rolling Stones for all their worth, and he does a fine job of it. "Rosalie Come Go" is a simple three chord affair that tells the story of a drug addled protagonist and his girlfriend . What makes it truly magic are the ultra crunchy guitars and the swooning harmonica. It's short and sweet enough that at the conclusion you just want to hear it again.

"The Fools We Are As Men" follows soon thereafter, and couldn't take things in a more different direction. The track is a guitar and mandolin arrangement, and with its dark vocals and sonic simplicity it would have been right at home on Heartbreaker. More importantly, it offers a side of "Ryan Adams being Ryan Adams" that is largely absent elsewhere in the Gold sessions.

Next up, we find Adams embracing his country side perhaps more than any ever time since his Whiskeytown days. "Sweet Black Magic" is a straight up bluegrass jam, and manages to deliver on all fronts. Loaded with awesome vocal harmonies, a great nostalgic lyrics, and plunky banjo from Adams, it's as endearing as it is enjoyable.

If "sad bastard" Ryan Adams is your style, then "The Bar Is A Beautiful Place" will be more than your cup of tea. Taking cues from "Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard", but with bars being the muse instead of LA, the song is a lament of the lonely existence of a drunk. Unlike many of Adams piano ballads, however, the track never lands in self indulgence. It helps that it has a fantastic melody, a great key change, and some simple horns for backing.

The final track, "Cannonball Days", is just about as good as it gets. It manages to have the gusto of "Firecracker", the lament of "Come Pick Me Up", and one of the best damn melodies Adams has ever laid down. Moreover, it features a massive organ solo worthy of the best in rock and roll. It closes out Side 4 in top form.

While it's easy to throw up one's hands at the vastness of Ryan Adams' catalog, and lament the artist's own self indulgence, there are many facets to explore that are well worth your while. In our opinion, Side 4 is one of the best, and you need to dig it up and give a listen.

mp3: Ryan Adams - Cannonball Days


dedeland said...

great review on this lost gem, wish i could grab a copy...had some nasty quality mp3 but they are gone now. Google for Side 4 found your review, great!

dedeland said...

great review, thanks for this, wish I could grab a copy of this...