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Reviewed by - George Bennett

Ryan Adams

After dissolving his alt-country cult-favorite band Whiskeytown with their last, truly great album 'Pneumonia', belatedly released in 2001, Ryan Adams became an alt-country/roots-rock favorite yet again with his first solo effort, 'Heartbreaker' (2000).  This disc launched a varied solo career that arced straight up into the stratosphere for the first couple of years, but as the hyper-prolific Adams released his last few discs in 2003 and 2004, that arc has been on the downward side of its peak.  From 2000 thru 2003's 'Gold', Adams was every music critic's "it" boy - he could do no wrong.  (It seems his love of booze and his smartass, egomaniacal ways have seen his career and the love of the music-media on the wane.  It's almost as though his self-importance and his whiskey now mean more to Adams than his music.  We hope we're wrong in assessing that possibility.)

Well-known audiophile label Mobile Fidelity (MoFi) has recently released Adams ' excellent 'Heartbreaker' on hybrid SACD (in stereo only.  Apparently MoFi doesn't go for surround audio, just as the golden-eared audiophile community in general does not, and every MoFi SACD this reviewer has seen/heard is stereo only.).  The sound quality is superb.  Every vocal, every instrument emerges from complete darkness, total silence.  Frequency balance low to high is excellent, as is transient response, soundstage width, depth and imaging.  MoFi's 'Heartbreaker' definitely qualifies as demo material.  While the sound of the original disc was okay, MoFi's SACD is much cleaner, more open, more immediate sounding - presence is in-the-room astounding.

Adams ' lyrical ability is knowing and experienced, his just-slightly nasal voice perfect for the heartbreak material here.  The musical arrangements fit the lyrical content, painting Adams ' words with a perfectly complimentary aural palette.  The sound of fingers and pick on acoustic guitar strings is palpable, the piano's sonority perfect, the Hammond B3 is as smooth as silk, and the drums and cymbals absolutely sparkle.

There's more than a slight nod to Bob Dylan's "electric" sound of the mid-late 60s here.  The opening track, "To Be Young", perfectly mirrors his 'Bringing it All Back Home'/'Highway 61 Revisited' period, with just a touch of echo on Adams' voice recalling the great roots-rockers and rockabillies of the past.  Adams ' excellent acoustic guitar picking is accompanied by B3 and drums on the vocal solo "My Winding Wheel".  "AMY" is acoustic again, with Adams ' voice clearly doubled, slightly eastern music influenced, old-time pump-organ and wide lateral placement of what sound like tympani, the transient response excellent.  "Oh My Sweet Carolina" is an acoustic duet with the beautiful harmony of the beautiful Emmy Lou Harris, B3, piano, and drums...as light and soft as gossamer.

"Call Me on Your Way Back Home" begins as a minor key solo acoustic vocal piece with delicate violins and cello sneaking in as the sad song develops.  Drums and harmonica kick in for the outro.  The intro to "Come Pick Me Up" could have been lifted from The Band's eponymous second album.  Add Gillian Welch on banjo and Kim Richey's harmonies for alt-country anthem perfection.  "Shakedown on 9th Street "  is a balls-out rocker that reaches out from the speakers to grab you in your sweet-spot (oh, my!).

On 'Heartbreaker', Mobile Fidelity has worked its magic on what was already a very good album musically and lyrically.  The improvement in sound quality is close to perfection, and somehow makes the album itself seem that much better.  What a joy to listen to!  Invite Ryan Adams and friends into your listening room.  The sound of this SACD is so immediate it is truly breath-taking.  If you already own 'Heartbreaker' on CD, get yourself set up for SACD and buy it again on MoFi.  Very highly recommended.

Release Date: August 24, 2004
Tracks: 15 - Time: 55:42
Produced by: Ethan Jones
Format: SACD

Track Listing:

(Argument with Dan Rawlings Concerning Morrissey) / To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High) / My Winding Wheel / Amy / Oh My Sweet Carolina / Bartering Lines / Call Me On Your Way Back Home / Damn, Sam ( I Love a Woman That Rains) / Come Pick Me Up / To Be The One / Why Do They Leave? / Shakedown on 9th Street / Don't Ask for the Water / In My Time of Need / Sweet Lil Gal (23rd/4th).

Ryan Adams:

Ryan Adams - Vocals / Guitars / Banjo / Harmonica / Piano
David Rawlings - Vocals / Guitars / Banjo / Tambourine
Gillian Welch - Vocals / Guitars / Banjo / Bass
Pat Sansone - Piano / Organ.

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