Los Angeles Times

"He's Looking Like Gold"

Ryan Adams, performing at the House of Blues, shows why he's busted out of the indie-rock ghetto to stake a forceful claim to rock's main stage.
By RICHARD CROMELIN, Special to The Times

Ryan Adams, who works in the tradition of the bruised troubadour, performs at the House of Blues in Hollywood. It was his first L.A. show since the release of his latest album, "Gold," in September.

Mick Jagger was singing at a party to promote his new album at the El Rey Theatre on Thursday night, but if you were searching for the spirit of classic Rolling Stones, you might have done better over at the House of Blues.

Actually, if you were searching for the spirits of Hank Williams, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Van Morrison et al., you would have come across them too at different points during the headliner's set.

The receptacle for these-and other-traditions is a brash, baby-faced singer-songwriter named Ryan Adams, who has busted out of the indie-rock ghetto known as alternative country to stake a claim as a force on rock's main stage. He might still be more potential than peer, but at just 27 the North Carolina native has already turned out some gems that wouldn't suffer in the company of those inspirations.

Originality? With a talent this natural and bracing it seems like a small issue, something that will kick in when all the pieces coalesce. Sometimes you just might find you get what you need.

Adams' records haven't sold much (less than 75,000 for the new "Gold"), but he gets great reviews and endorsements from class artists, from Emmylou to Elton. The buzz has grown with such bookings as "Saturday Night Live."

He also has regular old fans who have been accumulating since the mid-'90s, when he began leading the band Whiskeytown through a checkered career. They packed the House of Blues for Thursday's show, Adams' first in L.A. since "Gold" came out in September and triggered the momentum, and his first here with his full band.

Casually rumpled and playfully swaggering, with enough demons nipping at his heels to give things an edge of urgency, Adams met the challenge with offhand ease. While the two-hour set never quite hit escape velocity, it showcased a versatility and charisma that make the predictions of stardom seem like a no-brainer.

"Gold" has brilliant moments, but it's like a guest who doesn't know when to leave-it loses its charm as it goes on and on.

That sprawl just seemed like range in the context of the live show, as Adams shifted from pounding garage rock to his channeling of iconic '60s strains to achingly gorgeous, swoon-inducing acoustic ballads.

His voice is plain but utterly believable, and his songs boast rich melodies and defining hooks that seem to heave a sigh, sink in despair or soar with delight, depending on the lyric.

Delight isn't his primary emotion. Adams works in the tradition of the bruised troubadour, and he captured a tone of bittersweet longing most memorably Thursday in the nocturnal reverie "La Cienega Just Smiled" and the rueful "Oh My Sweet Carolina."

Rowdiness and exuberance got their due when Adams and his band, summoning a sort of vintage Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers vibe, mounted withering assaults that gathered and entangled elements of folk, soul and psychedelia.

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times