Ryan Adams

Easy Tiger (Lost Highway)

Since launching his solo career in 2000 — after helping redefine the alt-country concept with Whiskeytown — Ryan Adams has made overachievement something of a musical mantra: He released three albums in 2005 alone. Still, in Adams's case, quantity hasn't always equated with quality, and critics have complained that he relaxed his standards simply to be prolific. It's fortuitous, then, that in 2006 he took a respite to shore up his better material for this exceptional 13-song set, easily among his best so far. Some listeners might find it surprising that Easy Tiger purrs rather than roars, given its mellower, more pensive tones. Indeed it finds Adams earnestly returning to the easy, breezy heartland sound that inspired him early on. With the exception of the churning "Halloweenhead," the set never really rocks, emphasizing instead a traditional down-home embrace that comes with plucked banjos, strummed guitars, and shimmering pedal steel. Indeed he channels his inner Gram Parsons on "Tears of Gold" and "The Sun Also Sets," echoing a pining and purpose that once appeared only in scant supply. The reflective "I Taught Myself How to Grow Old" is an apt coda, but perhaps the real lesson learned is that Adams can finally take his time, now that he has hit his prime.

 
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