As singer-songwriter for Raleigh, North Carolina's Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams puts his own turmoil front and center, imbued with large doses of torrid introspection and drunken musings that belie his young life. As a band Whiskeytown mirrors the stark, broken soul turf of which Adams sings, combining the pained, pining pathos of country music with the anger and disillusionment of modern rock, best exemplified on the band's previous album, 1997's downer classic Strangers Almanac.
Unfortunately the next Whiskeytown album, recorded almost two years ago, sits on the shelf as the band looks for a new label following the demise of its former home, Outpost. In the meantime Adams left North Carolina for New York City. Heartbreaker, his first solo album, is about his New York experience and subsequent departure to Nashville, where he cut the record in two weeks.
Heartbreaker finds Adams departing somewhat from his usual tortured self-analysis, instead evoking Greenwich Village boho folk of the '60s in "Damn, Sam (I Love a Woman That Rains)," as well as the stilted introspection of today's singer-songwriters in "Don't Ask For the Water." Although the themes of loss and desperation remain, Adams -- perhaps in a byproduct of the material's less personal, more symbolic storytelling focus -- sounds strangely detached, his voice lacking the weight and commitment to carry the material. But he benefits by some great guest contributions, including Emmylou Harris on the beautiful, mournful "Oh My Sweet Carolina" and Kim Richey on the album highlight, "Come Pick Me Up," a redemptive plea for reconciliation. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings also provide support, most notably on the garage rave-up "Shakedown on 9th Street," and the honky-tonk "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)."
Despite a few missteps, Heartbreaker serves to tide over the listener until the next Whiskeytown album (which reportedly offers a more rock-oriented sound) as well as providing further insight into the psyche of one of America's most promising songwriters.