First Buzz

Good As Gold
Ryan Adams, Balladeer for Lonely Hearts

When Ryan Adams relocated to L.A. last spring to record his new album, Gold, a friend jokingly dubbed him a "cowboy in a china shop." The twist on the cliché is apt: Now looking to rent a house, the North Carolina-born Adams stalks the Hollywood Hills in leather boots, denim, and plaid while rhapsodizing to pals about his father’s taxidermy hobby and girls with cruel hearts. Which is not to say he’s a hick. Adams, twenty-six, first won acclaim in 1995 as lead singer of the now-defunct Whiskeytown, pioneers of the ever-blossoming alternative-country movement, which includes artists such as Lucinda Williams and the Old 97s. Over three Whiskeytown albums, Adams was reluctantly pegged as the Kurt Kobain of alt-country-the guy who would bring a new kind of music to the masses. "People just wanted to put a face to this country crossover," Adams says, his feet in the pool of a Hollywood hotel, "The pressure [to succeed] was scary." So scary, in fact, that he drank—to excess. "An average day was me in the bathtub trying to get over my hangover."

Although Adams claims he’s cut back on the sauce since the band broke up last year, his romantically downcast lyrics still ring of the sort of truth a drunk would get from his local bartender. Billboard called Adams’s first solo effort, Heartbreaker, "the finest musical memoir of 2000," and a recently released album of "lost" Whiskeytown tracks, Pneumonia, is being sought out by hipsters who don’t want to let a good band go. Now Gold, a sixteen-track homage to love gone wrong, plays like an instant classic—twangy riffs set against relatable lyrics. "Girls are a great incentive to play guitar. They burn you out; you write a song," he says with a wry smile. Besides, he adds, "there’s something really sexy about sad." Considering the fact that Adams (currently single) is poised to become every broken-hearted girl’s favorite balladeer, he may be absolutely right.

-Deanna Kizis