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Gold - the brilliant second solo album from Ryan Adams - will only heighten the artist's current role as one of the most revered songwriter-performers of his generation. But like all great art, Gold should also serve to surprise and confuse the expectations of those who've been quick to place labels on the extremely talented and prolific former leader of the now-legendary Whiskeytown, arguably the greatest post-Gram alt-country band to come down the musical pike. Heartbreaker, Adams' critically-acclaimed debut solo LP for the Chicago-based Bloodshot indie label, and Pneumonia, Whiskeytown's long-delayed, much-bootlegged third LP swansong (which ultimately became his debut release for the new Lost Highway label), were often introspective, more downbeat affairs. But all it takes is one listen to the Pete Townshend-like power chords and '60s soul organ that dominate the album's opening track, "New York, New York" - or the happy-go-lucky, take-no-prisoner harmonica on "Firecracker" with its "Let me be your baby tonight" chorus - to alert the listener to the fact that Gold is going to be anything but a sad affair. "I just think it happened that way," he says. "It wasn't a bad idea, considering I already made a really bummer record. But I was on my way to making another bummer record, and it just didn't come out like that." Even the ballads on Gold, like "Sylvia Plath" have a decidedly Neil Young-ish quality to them. In that regard, the album's title could refer to all the eclectic classic styles that have made their way onto Gold, as well as that archetypal golden jukebox of rock songs that - along with the literary ambitions his English teacher mom instilled in her son who dropped out of school in the 10th grade to form the punk band the Patti Duke Syndrome - have most influenced Adams. "Hey, I just don't listen to crap," laughs the songwriter of his sources. "They don't call it 'classic rock' for nothing!"
Of course, Gold has a myriad of meanings - and Adams also likes to point out that Gold is "what the buildings and streets look like in L.A. when the sun goes down." And, indeed, if Heartbreaker was Ryan Adams' New York album, dealing with a lost love there, then Gold is certainly the North Carolina native's take on Los Angeles; opening with a song called "New York, New York," concluding with "Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard," with songs like "La Cienega Just Smiled" in-between, certainly makes that apparent. "I don't really live anywhere; I'm just sort of transient right now," he says of the city he's recently adopted as home. "But for all intensive purposes, I guess I'm in L.A. for now. It's where I fly back to when I'm done touring or working."
Adams told MOJO that he immediately wrote 15 songs out of excitement upon arriving in L.A. - but, ironically, none of them are among the 16 tracks that make up Gold. The MOJO mentioned tracks, he says, were recorded at RCA Studios with just him and Dylan/Steve Earle pedal steel player Bucky Baxter for a Blood On The Tracks type album. "Again, I'm a record ahead of myself," he laughs. "Maybe two" - and indeed, Adams has yet another album nearing completion - this one with his wonderful hard rock Nashville band, the Pinkhearts. And that doesn't include the 10 songs Adams removed from Gold, which like Pneumonia, was originally planned as a double album. "I suddenly decided that it should be one CD with enough songs to fit on two vinyl LPs," he says. "I don't know that anyone has the patience to listen to one CD with 16 songs on it, let alone two. So I just figured I'd hold onto that stuff for later." All of which goes to prove that Adams write more songs than seems humanly possible. "It was major and my first and only concern," he stresses.
Gold, then, was the result of Adams having spent some time in Hollywood. He entered Hollywood's Sound Factory late last spring with friend and Heartbreaker producer Ethan Johns (who also drums and plays rhythm guitar - "He and I are one hot, nasty rhythm section without a bassist" - on Gold). The only other consistent through most of the 16 tracks are Jen Condos and Milos DeCruz trading bass duties, and Chris Stills, a talented singer-songwriter in his own right (and the son of Stephen Stills), who contributes lead guitar and "fills in the blanks." Other than that, it was a hodgepodge of guests who made their way onto the album, including Tom Petty keyboardist Benmont Tench, singer CeeCee White and Counting Crows leader Adam Duritz, among others. "If you happened to be in the studio, you played," he laughs.
Although Adams recently confessed to the New York Times that "Gold' is meant as an open letter for me and this one other person in the entire world, who shall go unnamed; the record's for her, not that she cares," he says he prefers to let the songs on Gold just speak for themselves. "I want people to come up with their own ideas and interpretations," he says. "It's too personal for me to talk about what they mean. I'm luckily in a situation where as soon as I'm done creating something, I'm usually onto making something else. So I'm not spending that much time self-analyzing these days.
"I do think the process of forgiving myself is really evident on this one. The songs aren't self-loathing or self-destructive. This record is more about making amends with things and really facing them. And it's more upbeat because I think I'm giving myself some air to breathe. I'm giving myself a chance to look at everything around me and not just be the victim. A lot of the subject matter is more of me describing things as trying to make sense of them as opposed to just talking about what goes down and the emotions I feel.
"But I do have two new rules. One is not to analyze what I write. The second is not to read my own press. I just want to make it and not fuss about it. No excuses for it. Just make it and there it is. That way, the process is more pure. And even if people hate it, well, it doesn't matter. Because I'm just doing it to do it."
And creating musical gold in the process.