In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “A long, but satisfying record from a dude who has surpassed the promise Gold showed all those years ago.”
For the second half of the 90s, Ryan Adams was lead singer of Whiskeytown. They were never stadium filling superstars, but they reached a level of critical and modest crowd success that any hard touring band would be more than happy with. They were at the kind of level that when they broke up, no one would be surprised to see the various members go onto bigger and better things, like Jeff Tweedy forming Wilco in the wake of Uncle Tupelo disbanding. But it would have been just as easy to understand if they fell into obscurity, like a post Libertines Pete Doherty.
I knew nothing of the band at the time, but even if I did, I’m not sure if I would have predicted that Adams would go onto become one of the most prolific, eclectic, respected and successful singer songwriters of the decade and a half since. A path that started with his solo debut Heartbreaker, but was pretty much assured with its follow up, Gold.
Released just two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Gold’s opener, New York, New York, became a kind of unofficial anthem for the resilience of the city. As a 21 year old in a small Australian town at the time, it was just cool troubadour rocker single that made its way onto alternative radio and introduced me this dude Ryan Adams. Which also lead to me hearing the term “alt-country” for the first time. While New York, New York didn’t really fit that bill, track two certainly delivers. The rocking harmonica of Firecracker sets the tone, combining country swagger with the early millennium sensitivity that so many musicians brought as they bucked the grunge and (thankfully brief) nu metal aggression that had come before them.
Answering Bell goes even more into traditional county, folk and rock, and almost sounds like a song The Band could have written at their height. I’m not sure if “Americana” was its own genre of music in 2001. I only became aware of it in the last few years with the rise and rise of Jason Isbell. But if you ever want to hear the subtle differences between (alt) country and Americana, just listen to La Cienaga Just Smiled, and then compare it to The Rescue Blues or Somehow, Someday.
If anyone wanted to accuse Adams of relying on the genre clichés of country for a lot of his music, it’s an accusation that could never be levelled at a song like Nobody Girl. Simple, straight forward and using its very limited musical flourishes for maximum impact, this is simply song writing at its most pure, genuine and affective. A sentiment that continues with the piano balladry of Sylvia Plath.
But Adams proves he’s just as adept at pumping out some blues rock fun with Gonna Make You Love Me, before Gold reaches its most extreme levels of vulnerability with the a Capella intro and acoustic country softness of Wold Flowers, the vintage, 60s soul of Touch, Feel & Lose, and roadhouse country rock of Tina Toledo’s Street Walkin’ Blues.
As a sophomore release from a solo artist, unleashing a mammoth 16 track album while still cultivating an audience is a pretty gutsy movie. And apparently Adams wanted to go even bigger with a full double album, but his label nixed that for this extended, single disc cut. But it’s a hubris that Gold justifies. None of these 16 tracks feel like filler or padding. Each and every one earns its place, making for a long, but satisfying record from a dude who has surpassed the promise Gold showed all those years ago.