Whiskeytown is known primarily for lead singer Ryan Adams's raw, emotional songs and often cocky swagger. Yet the question of whether that will change after the release of the band's new album will remain unanswered until at least next year: Tied up in the Interscope/Geffen merger, the completed album is stuck in limbo. In the meantime, Ryan has set out on his own with Heartbreaker, his soul-bearing solo debut on Bloodshot Records. While listeners will recognize the occasional tie to his old band on youthful country rockers like "To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high)," the preponderance of his output here is in a very different vein.
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On his own, Adams strips down and adopts a deeply melancholy mood that stems, in proper country fashion, from the recent "loss of a lover." While tunes like "My Winding Wheel" and the exquisite Emmylou Harris duet "Oh My Sweet Carolina" add persuasively to the frequent and favorable comparisons between Adams and Gram Parsons, too much of Heartbreaker is given over to stark, minimalist compositions that succeed only in reflecting Adams's bummed-out mood. Songs like "To Be the One," "In My Time of Need" and "Who Do They Leave?" are mere wisps of songs that seem to function more as tortured emotional releases than, well, songs. For all the considerable talent he displays here and elsewhere, Adams sounds like a lonely guy who's discovered comfort and redemption by immersing himself in the memory of a failed relationship. Trouble is, that sort of thing is usually only redeeming for the fellow playing the guitar.