On Ryan Adams' sixteenth studio album, Prisoner, we catch up with the North Carolina native two years after releasing what many consider to be his most focused and confident effort, Ryan Adams.
After seemingly burning through every big-name producer from his childhood rock record collection, Adams was no doubt eager to take the reigns once again. Enlisting Mike Viola was a stroke of genius that would ensure the arrangements would be taut and the hooks plenty. The resulting album was an artistic rebirth that netted Adams two Grammy nominations.
With all this talk of stability, you just knew it was only a matter of time before Adams found an off-ramp. His split from wife Mandy Moore and the ensuing hypey foray into Taylor Swift territory threatened to derail this new momentum.
Thankfully, Prisoner picks up mostly where Ryan Adams (the album) left off, but with a quite unexpected album opener "Do You Still Love Me" that will have you checking to see if you didn't accidentally put Side 2 of the "Heavy Metal" soundtrack on instead.
As the first single from the album, released last December, the song hinted at yet another theme-based departure for Adams, with its early '80s stadium rock leanings, but track #2 (the album's soulful title cut) retains the comfortable "worn-out jeans" familiarity that fueled much of Ryan Adams (the album).
When you stop to consider how few artists are this resonant on their sixteenth albums, songs like "Anything I Say To You Now", "Outbound Train" and "Broken Anyway" show Adams capable of building upon this well-worn template instead of just resting upon it.
Album closer "We Disappear" sounds like a song written for Springsteen or Joe Ely (a man can dream can't he?), but that Adams was smart enough to keep for himself.
Where Adams goes from here is anyone's guess, but, for now, Prisoner is the sound of Ryan Adams growing comfortable in his own skin.