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Vinyl Fix: Ryan Adams: Prisoner

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By Shereen Siewert

Mixing the heartfelt angst of a singer/songwriter with the cocky brashness of a garage rocker, Ryan Adams is at once one of the few artists to emerge from the alt-country scene to achieve mainstream commercial success and the one who most strongly refused to be defined by the genre, leaping from one spot to another stylistically while following his increasingly prolific muse.

One of Ryan Adams’ greatest strengths is his uncanny ability to create art out of pain. In Prisoner, his 16th studio album, he does just that, picking at the bones of his failed relationship with former wife Mandy Moore in a way we can all relate to.

Opener ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ sets the tone, if not quite the sound, for much of what follows, with a disconsolate Adams pleading, “Is my heart blind and our love so strange?” over a backing track somewhere in the middle of Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’ and The Eagles’ ‘Victim Of Love.’

Adams’ pen doesn’t hold back on the heartache – “I see you with some guy / Laughing like you never even knew I was alive” goes one pointed line on ‘Shiver And Shake’ – yet the overwhelming sentiment isn’t pettiness or acrimony, but an acceptance that some things are built to fall apart: as ‘To Be Without You’ eloquently puts it, “We are like a book and every page is so torn.” It’s a wisdom that comes from having been over this ground many times before, and while you wouldn’t wish it on him again, the worst sort of anguish brings out the best in him.

In Prisoner, Adams assembles a stunning scrapbook that captures heartbreak in an intimate array of snapshots, a collection that marks his most accomplished record since Heartbreaker. You won’t be disappointed.

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