Why Ryan Adams Is a Modern American Musical Treasure

Ryan Adams has produced a discography littered with songs that are universally relatable, raw, and human.
Ryan Adams has produced a discography littered with songs that are universally relatable, raw, and human.
Photo by Danny Clinch

It really is a crying shame how the blogosphere treats Ryan Adams these days. Seems as though everyone is so completely distracted by the prolific singer/songwriter's (admittedly hilarious) antics and private life that they've forgotten why we all give a shit in the first place: He's a modern musical treasure.

So while all of the world's bloggers are very busy swooning and cooing over the man's recent cover of Bryan Adams' “Summer of '69” (which he's actually played live several times before, just not at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium), we're going to take some time (and several hundred words) to extol this hero's canon for what it truly is: A massive, nearly infallible body of glorious musical work that's produced an ever-increasing number of songwriting triumphs.

He's Superprolific and Superconsistent
There are artists who stew and toil for an entire career to put out a single decent album, and though we would never disparage anyone's artistic process (nor turn a blind eye to the house of red tape in which the music industry resides), we've got to give credit to the superprolific and superconsistent Adams. The usual quality-versus-quantity argument truly fails here, because he hasn't just released a staggering number of albums over the course of his career, he's released a staggering number of brilliant albums.

He Writes Universally Relatable Songs
In the storied tradition of the archetypal singer/songwriter, Ryan Adams has produced a discography littered with songs that are universally relatable, raw, and human without relying on the vague platitudes that are typical of today's love songs and pop music. A piece of work like “My Wrecking Ball,” off his eponymous 2014 record, is an exceptional example of Adams' adeptness at capturing common feelings and emotions in a way that lends a song its own distinct reality while still vividly reflecting listeners' experiences.

He Doesn’t Hide His Influences
Nothing is created in a vacuum, and though it's certainly important to develop one's own musical identity, we've all got influences to ape. From the cartoonishly large Fender amp props that Adams has used on stage for years to the songs on the B side of his 2007 album, Easy Tiger, Adams' obsession with Neil Young is more than a little apparent. However, he is a master of the graceful homage. Songs like “Tears of Gold” and “The Sun Also Sets” — with their Young-inspired meandering falsettos and Zuma-style instrumentation — are proof. Similarly, Adams' 1984 EP gracefully pays tribute to Hüsker Dü.

He Is Versatile Without Sacrificing Personality
How to tell that an artist's personality is well developed? His or her music can be almost instantly identified, even if you haven't previously heard that particular song. In Ryan Adams' case, whether cloaked in the aforementioned Hüsker Dü vibe of 1984, the oddball metallic tinge of Orion, or the Brit-rock energy of 2003's unfairly maligned Rock N Roll, he just can't help but sound like himself. To us, reinvention and versatility without sacrificing one's essential personality is the mark of a truly mature musician. After all, where would Bowie be if he had remained Ziggy Stardust into the late '70s?

Ryan Adams: Probably your favorite songwriter’s favorite songwriter.
Ryan Adams: Probably your favorite songwriter’s favorite songwriter.
Photo by Julia Brokaw

He Is a Beacon for Other Songwriters
Though many think of Ryan Adams as a lone wolf, we really are the company we keep, and the man's list of collaborators boasts a remarkable number of singer/songwriters who are quite accomplished in their own right. From alt-country luminaries like David Rawlings and Neal Casal to current foil (and cult hero) Mike Viola, Adams attracts the attention of other giants, and if that isn't a sign of greatness, nothing is!

Ryan Adams. With Jenny Lewis. 8 p.m. Thursday, May 7, at Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; fillmoremb.com. Tickets cost $40.50 to $55 plus fees via livenation.com. All ages.

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The Fillmore Miami Beach

1700 Washington Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139



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