Ryan Adams – 1989 (Album Review)

Ryan Adams - 1989So this album is something of a rarity these days.  It’s a musician from one genre actually acknowledging the artistic merit of someone with a completely different style.  Most often when a cover album is made the tendency is to alter the original concept to such an extent that the core message and feeling that the lyrics are trying to convey, is almost completely lost.  What Ryan has done is not only recreate the songs in a his own image, but he’s also maintained the core values that Taylor Swift initially set forth to express.Now, I’ll be the first one to say that I am by no means a Taylor Swift fan.  But there is no doubting that her song-writing is something to be recognized.  Sure she doesn’t have the greatest voice or the best guitar chops in the world.  But what she lacks in those areas she makes up for it in her ability to express herself in a completely transparent way without inhibitions or feeling self conscious.  Where most artists would be concerned with coming off as “dorky”, she embraces the “Dork Side”, and I think this is what endears her to so many people.

Ryan Adams - 1989

The opening track, “Welcome to New York”, is layered with strings, acoustic guitars, pianos and echoed vocals that capture the grandness and magnitude of the city. It also has a melancholy feel that gives the impression that Ryan is speaking as someone who has spent decades living in the city and is trying to explain his passion for it to a newcomer upon their first visit.  The feeling you get from Swift’s version is that she is taking a group of friends out sightseeing to all the tourist traps, but all the while she speaks of New York as her home away from home.  The connecting thread between the two versions is a clear love for the City and the memories it’s given them.  This seems to be a reoccurring feel that Ryan has throughout the album.

Instrumentally speaking the biggest difference between the two albums is Adams’ use of live and acoustic instruments. Swift’s album on the other hand was written mostly through the use of Synths.  By doing this Adams has given the songs a mix of blues, rock, and bluegrass while still maintaining Swift’s initial vision.  There are a few exceptions though.  Take the song “All you had to do was stay”; with this track he takes on a more 80’s New Wave feel with electronic drums and echoed guitars that is reminiscent of “A Flock of Seagulls” or early “Cure”.


I will say however that I feel like Adams somewhat missed the mark on one song in particular and that is “Shake it Off”.  On a whole, there are plenty of reasonable instances to embrace the more sad or melancholy feel of Swift’s songs.  But with Shake it Off, a song about transcending the negativity that other people throw at you, originally had a feel of joy and jubilation.  When you listen to Adams’ take, it’s almost as if the song is about a friend who never let anything or anyone bother them, but it just so happens that they’ve passed away. But that’s not to say that this one interpretation ruins anything.  It still holds true to the overall direction he’s taken.  But when you have a song with such an upbeat message, there isn’t really much room for any somber vibes.

Even though there is a crisp quality to the mix of each instrument there is still a warmth in the overall tone that gives you the feeling that you’re in the studio with the band.  Most commonly you’ll find that the rule of thumb these days for popular music is, “the louder the better!”.  But that’s just not the case here.  Even during rocking tunes like “Style” no one person is overpowering another and the Bass is placed at an even level that allows it to be heard without muddying up the whole thing.
Ryan Adams - 1989

For the most part the album alternates between intimate minimalistic ballads and full on rock and roll.  That’s not to say that Ryan has gone full blown “Metal” on us.  It’s just that when the full band is brought in there is a clear shift in the intensity level, but at the same time it does so without jarring the listener.

I’ll be honest Ryan’s music isn’t usually the kind thing that you’d hear coming out of my stereo. I’m more prone to the RnB of the 70’s and the hard rock of the 90’s.  Pretty much anything with a solid groove.  But I was able to listen to this all the way through without feeling like I needed to jump around to find the “good” songs.  Each song has it’s own way of drawing you into it in a somewhat personal way that seems to allow it to overcome any personal genre preferences.  As long as you’re looking for music that you can FEEL, then Ryan’s take on 1989 definitely lives up to the challenge.

Ryan Adams - 1989




Writer, Musician, Composer, Singer and Dancer. To sum up: I like to get jiggy with it!

2 Responses to “Ryan Adams – 1989 (Album Review)”

  1. Brian White

    Great review! I showed this on iTunes to Kori last night as she loves Swift’s 1989 album and she downloaded this.

  2. Shohan

    Thanks Brian!