The re-release of an album is always something of a dubious affair when, at first glance, there appears to be no discernible reason for bringing an old record back into the limelight. A twentieth anniversary edition, for instance, complete with long-lost outtakes and demo tracks is often a welcome piece of fan memorabilia.
In the case of the shiny new deluxe edition of Ryan Adams’ debut solo album Heartbreaker, however, this re-release, sixteen years after the record first hit the shelves, appears at first to be somewhat without motive.
Recorded in 2000 over the course of only fourteen days, not long after the break up of Adams’ previous band Whiskeytown, Heartbreaker was a huge critical success, its easy-going blend of melodic country and heartfelt honesty striking a chord with fans and critics alike.
Sixteen years on, amidst a musical world reigned over by singer-songwriters such as James Bay and George Ezra, it’s actually quite reassuring to be reminded that these young bucks are, despite their talents, far from the first people to be touting their trade. Indeed, stick any track from ‘Heartbreaker’ on Radio 1 right now, and teens across the nation would cause a Ryan Adams overload on Spotify.
Traversing through the full spectrum of Adams’ alt-country roots, Heartbreaker is a worthy calling-card from the then up-and-coming artist, from the rockabilly riffs of opening track ‘To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)’ and the infectious ‘Shakedown on 9th Street’, to the more understated likes of ‘Why Do They Leave?’ and ‘Don’t Ask for the Water’, Adams’ mastery for his art is prevalent throughout. His ability to strike the heartstrings, however, is perhaps no more evident than on the utterly poignant ‘Call Me On Your Way Back Home’, Adams’ husky yet tender vocals blending so very perfectly with its humble and simplistic melody.
Influences are clear throughout; there are hints of Tom Petty, with a generous sprinkling of Bob Dylan-esque harmonicas, overlayed with a heavy helping of Springsteen’s acoustic works. Indeed, given a slightly more raw timbre in the vocals, one could easily be forgiven for thinking this were a collection of forgotten tracks from ‘Nebraska’.
The deluxe half of the collection is generally an interesting insight into the creative process. The outtakes are perhaps a little obsolete, save for a hilarious rock-out version of the chilled ‘Come Pick Me up’, as overall the recordings are barely different from those that actually made the final edit. The demos, however, are intriguing, from the highly experimental ‘Bartering Lines’, to a handful of much traditional Adams fayre.
A highly enjoyable trip down memory lane, Heartbreaker greets you like an old friend that you haven’t seen for years, reminding you just what music is all about; passion, honesty, heartache and a reassuring handful of joy behind the sadness. If you missed it the first time, take a walk into the poetic mind of one of America’s modern maestros.
Bonus features: 3/5
Heartbreaker Deluxe Edition is out now via Pax-Am.