Though he's only twenty-five, Ryan Adams, the lead singer of Whiskeytown, is the sort of artist who seems perpetually on the cusp of a masterpiece. He came close with his star-crossed band, which is currently trying to find a new record label, and now he's taking his own shot with Heartbreaker, his first solo album. Adams' sources run deep — from Paul Westerberg to Hank Williams — and he has the raspy, quavering voice and innate tunefulness to be worthy of them. And the boy is nothing if not sincere. Heartbreaker opens with Adams debating guitarist David Rawlings about a Morrissey song, and that's followed by a folk-rocking track called "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)," which recalls the exuberant Dylan of the mid-sixties. The dreamy, sweetly psychedelic "Amy" evokes the otherworldly wonder of Nick Drake; Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Kim Richey add background vocals. Unfortunately, Adams' songs too often fail to rise above their plain-spoken details to take on the symbolic power he yearns for. Summoning legends at every turn, he makes you uncomfortably aware of what he hasn't yet achieved. His considerable talent and charm, however, make you hope that soon he will.
- Ryan Adams
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