Has Ryan Adams taken emulation of his forebears too far? We’re not talking about his music, which for the most part is impressively heartfelt, solid, and honest. Rather, we wonder if he’s really up to the challenge of releasing multiple albums each year, the way, say, the Beatles did back in the day. 29 is Adams’ third CD of 2005 and the final installment of a triptych that includes the double disc Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights. This time out, he has dispensed with his band, the Cardinals, opting for an intensely spartan, stripped-down approach.
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. In fact, after the title track’s opening choogle (an homage to the Grateful Dead’s ”Truckin”’?), things turn downright maudlin on such tracks as ”Strawberry Wine,” ”Starlite Diner,” and ”Elizabeth, You Were Born to Play That Part.” What with all the hushed piano, misty-eyed vocals, and lyrics like ”Waiting on someone that just won’t show/ Every night it seems like there’s no tomorrow,” these songs walk a fine line between beauty and unintentional parody of the singer-songwriter genre.
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 that applies to 29‘s two predecessors. With that in mind, we respectfully suggest Adams commit to the following New Year’s resolution for 2006: I will curtail the desire to release every single song I write — and put out no more than an album and a half.