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Thursday, February 7, 2013


(Lost Highway Records)
Released 12/19/05

"I kind of always thought I'd commit suicide before i was 30... i was depressed.... i was obseseed with hurting myself. it was in the back of my mind but i didnt aknowledge it and i think it manifested itself in weird ways but mainly in art...... that darkness in the light, i kind of undid it, certain lessons and events like breaking my wrist helped me undo it and saved my life" - Ryan Adams (Times Online Podcast)

The Reviews

"The third album this year from the prolific Ryan Adams, following Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights, is easily the best. It may be his best work since Gold.................
Here, as throughout, Johns resists the urge to embellish unnecessarily, relying on a simple accompaniment of acoustic guitar fattened with 12-string and ukelele. 29 is a sterling return to the form that had Adams tagged as one of the great talents of his generation. (4 out of 5 stars - Independent, 12/9/05 - Andy Gill)

"Recorded without his backing band, The Cardinals, 29 is mainly Adams and his guitar, with drifts of swelling piano and velveteen drums cementing the album's keening mood. Although several tracks could be accused of self-indulgence, Adam's ability to infuse his music with a savage honesty remains his most redeeming quality. He has yet to release a record as arresting as his first few releases but 29's sprawling beauty suggests he's got the capacity to do so." (3 out of 5 stars - Metro Review)

"29 is intermittently affecting, serving up largely mournful, country-tinged stuff that sometimes sounds like nothing so much as Neil Young channeling Tim Buckley. It's definitely one of those three-a.m.-of-the-soul affairs....... The net effect is something close to that produced by Bob Dylan's '75 depresso classic Blood on the Tracks (although even the best stuff here isn't quite in that league). Ultimately, there may be half a good-to-great disc here, about the same wheat-to-chaff ratio......" (Grade: B- - Entertainment Weekly)

"29," his third release this year, the only one without his new band, the Cardinals, is cohesive in its fragility. Accompanied by delicate piano and acoustic guitar, these nighttime laments echo the brittle chill of the season. If the upbeat title song's resemblance to the Grateful Dead's "Truckin' " is too blatant, the conjuring of Todd Rundgren on "Nightbirds," Neil Young on "Strawberry Wine," and Paul Simon on "Starlite Diner" resonates as tender homage to artists who also made their mark in their 20's." (Laura Sinagra - New York Times)

"29 features nine songs, each of which portrays Adams, now 31, at a different year in his twenties. The album might be murky and inconsistent, but it's also an eerily apt encapsulation of country-trotting, post-collegiate confusion, and flitting relentlessly between styles, moods, cities, and fucked-up affairs. Scattered, slow-building, and occasionally soporific, 29 is also unfortunately easy to dismiss-- meaning naysayers will miss a handful of perfectly transcendent tracks............... Self-serious and wildly inconsistent (in both ingenuity and style), 29 is hard to swallow without acknowledging and appreciating the record's overarching storyline: getting through your twenties is way hard. Adams may churn out heaps of uneven tracks-- unfiltered and unedited, scrappy and undercooked, too long, too earnest, too much-- but 29 still fulfils its narrative promise, in terrifically failed, oddly beautiful ways." (Amanda Petrusich - 12/16/05 - Pitchfork Media 6.8)

1. 29
2. Strawberry Wine
3. Nightbirds
4. Blue Sky Blues
5. Carolina Rain
6. Starlite Diner
7. The Sadness
8. Elizabeth You Were Born to Play the Part
9. Voices

Ryan Adams - Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Ethan Johns - Drums, Bass, Guitar, Harpsichord, Ukulele, Kee Bass, Chamberlain, Pedal Steel
JP Bowerstock - Guitars, Guitarone, Electric Mandolin
Jennifer Condos - Bass
Phil Levy, Lisa Sutton, Anatoly Rosinsky, Bruce Dukov, Endre Granat, and Rafael Rishik - Violin
David Low, Dennis Karmazyn - Cello
Alan Kaplan - trombone
Wayne Bergeron - trumpet

All Songs written by Ryan Adams
Produced by Ethan Johns
Recorded and Mixed by Ethan Johns at Three Crows Studios (Los Angeles, CA) between August 2nd and August 14th, 2004
Assistant Engineer - Robert Fulps
Mastered by Erick Labson and Steve Holroyd at Universal Mastering Studios (Los Angeles, CA)

The Background

Although 29 was the last album Ryan released in 2005, it was the first of the three that he recorded. Roughly six months after falling and breaking his wrist at a show in Liverpool, he was back in Los Angeles alongside producer Ethan Johns to write and record these songs. Although, still healing and re-learning how to play guitar again, the album was recorded in only twelve days between August 2nd and August 14th of 2004. Many of the songs on the album were written the night before being recorded.

29 is probably one of Ryan's most misunderstood records. Released after two albums with the Cardinals (the good-time country - Jacksonville City Nights and the Grateful Dead inspired Cold Roses), 29 is a slightly different, more quiet and somber solo affair. The album is made up of lengthy story songs with music that tends to plod along in an unexciting manner. But the beauty of 29 lies in the lyrics, its' soulful frailty, and honesty. It fits well alongside the dark mood of Love is Hell. Upon release, many critics panned this album, some simply saying it was the worst album of the three he released in 2005, while others mentioned that he needed an editor. To truly understand 29, it helps to learn about what Ryan was trying to accomplish.

The ideas and theme behind 29 is a strange but original one. Turning 30 during the making of the record, Ryan has said that each of the nine songs on the album represent a different year of his 20's. Writing these songs was a way for him to write his way out of the death of his 20's. Other times he has mentioned that each song on the album was written from the perspective of someone who is dead, and the cycle is represents a suicide.

"In my head, the way that I see 29 is that the first song would be the first literal thoughts that somebody had the first few seconds after a suicide where they're actually going throughtheir life the way it happened....... and 'strawberry wine' is like where your neurosystems start shuttng down and all of a sudden youre a different character and jumping off of a bridge and landing into the arms of this woman....... as the record starts meandering, you could either say its sleep or its death..... in 'carolina rain', the character is dead and reflecting back to when he got shot.... and in 'the sadness' the character dies but he never gets to tell his lover that he truly did love this person ....even after slitting his wrist." - Ryan Adams (Times Online Podcast)

Many of the songs were written through the Freudian analysis process; which involves realizing that all of the characters in your dreams are different parts of yourself and that the relationships a person has with other people is how you are dealing with yourself.

"When i listen to 'voices' now, its just evil.... the end of it is the actual interaction between elijah and gabriel... who take souls on to other planes... so the neurotransmitters are done, the electricity has burned out of the brain. the stories have dwindled and now its full participation on whatever would be next, but the character hasnt gone over yet. theres an evil voice thats telling him to go back to the house." - Ryan Adams (Times Online Podcast)

"So when you start the record you have to think about it this way. a man has just cut his wrists in the bath and he's dying and these are the things that go through his head as he's passing in that flash of a second or however long it takes. and these are the different steps like, the heart slowing, bloods draining, there still electricity in your body after you die and they say it takes a certain amount of time before the brain actually stops moving and even then, there's a journey and i wanted try to figure out a way to connect that to the what i felt was the death of my youth." - Ryan Adams (Times Online Podcast).

My Review

29 is not one of my favorite albums but also not one of my least favorite albums either. It's definitely a grower and takes at least a few listens to get into. It's a perfect album to listen to during the winter months. Some of the songs on the album are incredible and rank among his best (such as "Strawberry Wine"). Others don't really do anything for me ("Starlite Diner"). But artistically, this is the album Ryan was meant to make at the time, and Ethan Johns did a fine job of carrying on that vision.

Mostly Essential, but takes some a few listens to get into.

Key Tracks: "Strawberry Wine", "Nightbirds", "Blue Sky Blues", "Carolina Rain", "Elizabeth You Were Born to Play the Part"

Other Versions/Bonus Cuts Worth Checking Out

In 2012, various solo versions of some of the songs on 29 were included on Ryan's live compilation - Live After Deaf.

Random Notes:

Only one song was recorded for these sessions and not used.

According to a fan who spoke with Ryan, he originally wanted to release 29 on Pax-Am Records in November, 2004.

According to Nielson soundscan in June of 2007, the album sold 81,000 copies in the US and 153,000 worldwide.

29 was ranked the 54th best album of the decade by Times magazine.

"Eizabeth You Were Born to Play the Part" was also recorded for the unreleased album - Darkbreaker in 2005.

"Carolina Rain" from BBC Performance

"Blue Sky Blues" from BBC Performance

1 comment:

  1. According to a promo showing an early tracklist of '29', "Voices" was once titled "Everyone Inside Me is Dead"