For The Morning Star
Ryan Adams’ 16th album, Prisoner, is a revealing take on restlessness and regret. The American singer/songwriter/instrumentalist leans heavily on his alt-rock/country background for a coherent sound and an uplift to darkly tinged musings.
Adams gets down to basics quickly on Do You Still Love Me, a passionate plea of a song delivered as a power ballad. It works effectively as Adams levels the lyric with the candor of an Iggy Pop song. And that’s how he reads the rest of the album.
Adams’ prolific recording history has taken tangents that haven’t derailed it but have given him more references to draw upon. His early period alt-country phase has remained a backbone of his sound, one that doesn’t lean fashionably one way or another.
Prisoner incorporates a folk-rock vibe but stays clear of banjo happy Mumford & Sons rave ups. Instead, Adams unfurls his Springsteen influence on material like Haunted House and Shiver and Shake. Those are plaintive songs that form the heart of the album. They drift and brood and there’s a ringing harmony blowing through.
Adams’ songcraft and Appalachian vocals are laser sharp and thematically consistent – finger picked acoustic themes (To Be Without You) move to electric laments like Anything I Say to You Now without any rueful contemplation. There’s some dark backwoods atmosphere happening and it gives the music an edge that lifts it above the less than sunny commentary.
The songs aren’t longer than they need to be and Adams doesn’t stretch or belabour his ideas. They twang and ring and allow Adams to bring out some jewels like Broken Anyway. It’s the sound of a man relieved to let out his worry.