A funny thing happened while listening to Ryan Adams’s iTunes Session. I was prepared to deem it unnecessary, yet another iTunes cash grab full of neutered tunes which were much better on the studio albums they came to life on. Fortunately for Adams, he doesnt suffer the same fate of the Wilcos of the world. If you thought he was stripped bare on Heartbreaker or even his most recent effort, Ashes & Fire, think again. This session showcases a version of Adams we havent heard (bootlegs notwithstanding). Its just a man and his guitar, with the occasional, welcoming sounds of harmonica. No brushed percussion, no upright bass, no piano, no slide guitar, no Emmylou Harris or Norah Jones. Just Adams.
The sparse recording is also indicative of what its like to attend an Adams concert these days: courteous silence. Take the beats he plays with in Oh My Sweet Carolina, letting the moments breathe here and there before bursting back in with harmonica. The song is sandwiched between Dirty Rain and the lovely Lucky Now, creating a nice trilogy of solo recollections to begin the album, before Adams takes a welcomed trip to his days of Whiskeytown and roses.
Houses on the Hill from Whiskeytowns Strangers Almanac is not only revisited, its rebooted. Gone are the violin, drums, and extra guitars. Even Adamss voice sounds different. Fifteen years ago, he gave the song a vocal track that blended Springsteen drawl and Petty wailing. In 2012, its transformed into something known as the Ryan Adams tenor: that vibrato that just waltzes its way out of Adams when called upon.
Its hard to guess where Adams goes from here. His iTunes Session displays the Jacksonville (North Carolina, yall) native in fine form vocally, but he leans back a bit on his influences once more. He pays tribute to Bob Mould on this very release (a non-shockingly subtle cover of Black Sheets of Rain), and has worn his heart on his sleeve on the polarizing Rock n Roll (The Replacements) and 29 (The Grateful Dead). This live session reminds us that what Adams really needs to do is something natural and yet challenging– just be himself.
Essential Tracks: Oh My Sweet Carolina, Lucky Now, and Houses on the Hill