Skip to main content

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams (illustration by Andy Friedman)

Ryan Adams (illustration by Andy Friedman)


From his early years in Whiskeytown to his work with Cardinals to his many solo releases, Ryan Adams has a proclivity for both unpredictability and uplifting musical grace. The North Carolina-bred Adams, who celebrated his 42nd birthday on November 5, has always been an exhilarating wild card — a punk, a stoner, a comedian, and a rebel in the shaggy guise of an alt-country (and rock 'n' roll) singer and songwriter.

His prolific songwriting chops are impressive, especially when he dips into his most autobiographical, vulnerable moments, on songs like "Oh My Sweet Carolina" (featuring Emmylou Harris) from 2000's Heartbreaker or "Feels Like Fire" from his 2014 eponymous album. As the years roll by, whenever New Yorkers navigate another somber September 11 anniversary, many still seek out Adams' poignant video of "New York, New York" from 2001's Gold for comfort; it's a song that now serves as both an anthem of the city's resilience and a beautiful lament for those who were lost too. His albums can often zigzag in various directions, as on 2005's Easy Tiger, but it's the reflective Ryan Adams who is the most sublime, as on tracks like "Strawberry Wine" from 2005's 29 or the shimmering "So Alive" from 2003's Rock 'n' Roll.

Adams is young, but he's lived hard and has faced some health issues (Ménière’s disease) and has battled with sobriety. But his determination to overcome professional and personal setbacks has served his songwriting well (and his business choices too — he now has his own label, Pax-Am). He has a new album in the works, which was to be released in November 2016, but has been delayed. According to reports, Adams has been collaborating with producer Don Was and has winnowed nearly 80 songs down to 11 tracks that reflect his life at this time. True to Adams' mutable artistic nature — at least at the time the album was first announced — the sound is inspired by Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Hornsby, AC/DC and The Smiths.

Adams has been a frequent guest of WFUV over the years, his music is a staple on the station, and we've long admired his sponteneity and quirky tangents, even when that leads him down an unexpected Taylor Swift avenue, as on his respectful 2015 track-for-track cover album of her 2014 release, 1989. Even though he's keeping his fans waiting a bit longer for his next album, Ryan Adams will always be an FUV Essentials artist.

Nicole Atkins: Five Essential Ryan Adams Songs

FUV Essentials: Alisa Ali on Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams: FUV Live at Electric Lady Studios 2014
Ryan Adams: Newport Folk Festival 2016