Ten Songs from Live at Carnegie Hall
Ryan Adams has long been one of those Jekyll and Hyde artists that intersperse performances of poetic intimacy with outings of full-tilt electric immediacy. It's a balance that mirrors such classicists as Neil Young without ever sounding imitative.
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Ten Songs from Live at Carnegie Hall is a curiosity that allows the Jekyll persona to emerge out of a Hyde outburst. Specifically, it documents two solo acoustic dates at the landmark New York venue last November that fell in the midst of nearly a year's worth of grungy electric shows. That doesn't keep it from being a wonderfully unsettled concert keepsake, though.
The entirety of both acoustic performances was chronicled in the spring on the limited edition, 6 LP vinyl-only package Live at Carnegie Hall. It sold out quickly but remains available for hardcore fans in digital form through the usual online outlets. This week brings us Ten Songs from Carnegie Hall — a fine 50 minute sampler split evenly between songs from both shows.
While the full vinyl set serves essentially as a career retrospective, Ten Songs is a bookend affair that offers five songs from Adams' first two solo albums (2000's Heartbreaker and 2001's Gold) with the remainder representing the here and now (three from 2014's Ryan Adams along with two new tunes).
Sometimes these new readings vary greatly from their studio originals, like the reconstruction of the churchy, power chord-fueled Gimme Something Good into a pensive, internalized confession and a gorgeously delicate update of Gold's Nobody Girl stripped of its mounting electric charge.
In other instances, these takes very much follow the lead of their previous incarnations, as with two Heartbreaker works that begin and end Ten Songs — a reflective Oh My Sweet Carolina rich with country despondency and the stark guitar/harmonica kiss-off incantation Come Pick Me Up.
For those thinking Ten Songs is a strictly melancholy affair (and the brooding piano balladry of Gold's Sylvia Plath and the very Nick Drake-like cast of the new This is Where We Meet in Our Mind certainly enforce that notion), there is a bright retooling of Gold's New York, New York to serve as a pop affirmation.
That Ten Songs leaves you hungry for more goes without saying. Loads of treats from the vinyl set are absent here, including the title tune from 2011's extraordinary Ashes & Fire, the robustly brittle cover of Bob Mould's Black Sheets of Rain and a truckload of hilarious between-song banter. Still, this is a sublime little trip through Adams' brilliantly restless musical mind, complete with enough four-letter bombs embedded in the lyrics to earn Ten Songs a parental advisory label.
Having that plastered on the back and white cover photo of Carnegie Hall in all its grandeur was no doubt viewed by Adams as a point of pride.
Walter Tunis | Contributing Music Critic