Thursday, October 13, 2005 ... 2:56 PM

Jacksonville City Limits

Ryan Adams sounds more and more to me like Bono, maybe as produced by Joe Ely. I read everywhere about how terrific is the new Jacksonville City Nights, and I keep coming back to it for another listen. Again and again I'm disappointed. Marbled though it is with sweet, brittle steel guitar, I hear more Rattle and Hum than Honky Tonk Masquerade in its cowboy play-acting and self-conscious Americana milieu, its squandered songwriting opportunities, its overextended, histrionic -- often flat embarrassing -- vocal performances.

There's this question of authenticity that always bobs up when critics hear Ryan pull out his N.C. drawl -- as though there can be anything authentic about an American artform that sees corrupted English parlor tunes played by white hicks on African and Spanish instruments. Myself, I just love it when the music twangs -- but beyond that, it don't mean a thing if it don't feel no pain, and besides an occasional cringe, when I listen to Jacksonville City Nights, I mainly feel nothing at all.

Just as all that's left of the Wilco of AM are ghosts in the new machine, the Adams of Heartbreaker is deadngone. We all agree on that now. But everyone keeps going back to that record, keeps bringing it up -- or accusing others of bringing it up, as a way to bring it up -- and holding it up to the light because, maybe subconsciously, we need to revisit that wellspring to refresh our idea of Adams as a songwriter of sustained talent and at least some honesty -- maybe to justify all the attention we keep fucking giving him. Those songs had about them a sense of craftsmanship, of care, and a feeling that something was at stake -- internally and as works of art. My hunch: it was the influence of Gillian and Dave. But even if not, those songs five years ago (God, is that all?) cared about themselves, healthily. They have aged well.

Jacksonville City Nights feels as though it worries about what you think, and resents you for it.



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Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas
(Novello Festival Press, April 2008)
includes my essay, "Link Wray"


Flop Eared Mule
The Celestial Monochord
Dig and Be Dug in Return
Modern Acoustic Magazine / Blog
The Old, Weird America
Honey, Where You Been So Long?

The Greensboro Review
Mixed Animal
Night Train
Fried Chicken and Coffee
Mungo (This was the blog of my friend, the late Cami Park. Miss you, Cami.)
Staccato Fiction
PANK Magazine

Cat and Girl
Film Freak Central