UPDATE: 1:11 p.m. Feb. 3 — Tonight’s Ryan Adams show at the Temple Buell Theatre has been rescheduled for Saturday, Feb. 4 due to inclement weather. Tickets for tonight’s show will be honored at Saturday’s performance. Doors will open at 7 p.m. and the show will begin at 8.
Ryan Adams’ debut record, “Heartbreaker,” took many years to reach my consciousness. When it finally got there, some six or seven years ago, I knew it would never really leave. It set up shop in that permanent crevice of one’s being — the place where your ears, soul, brainwaves and heart simultaneously arrive at a four-way stop sign.
With roughly 13 studio albums under his belt since the year 2000, the sheer artistic output of Ryan Adams is enviable. Most of that material is very good, some of it is not. Below is a list of my personal favorites — whittled down from 25, to 15, to 12, to ultimately, a simple 11. While representing all 13 records was impossible for this assignment, you’ll see that I heavily weighted “Heartbreaker” and left out his most recent work. Disagree with the picks? Feel free to leave your own list in the comments at the bottom.
11. “Stop Playing With My Heart”
This is Adams and his trusty Cardinals at their alt-country best. 2010’s “III/IV” is a double release of leftovers from the “Easy Tiger” recording sessions, when the Cardinals had just hit their stride before going down the dreaded “Cardinology” path one year later.
10. “Sweet Illusions”
“Cold Roses” is often referred to as Adams’ magnum opus — justifiably so. The double album is ripe with unique phrases and descriptions like the chorus from which this song takes its name. Plus the desperation in his voice cuts through the track like a snare drum.
9. “A Kiss Before I Go”
Was this song really written by Adams? It could easily be mistaken for a Hank Williams or Willie Nelson cover — too timeless to be conceived in the modern era. Such is the sentiment of much of Adams’ work.
8. “Oh My Sweet Carolina”
Convincing Emmylou Harris to sing on your debut record is no easy feat. Then again, writing one of the definitive odes to your home state is an arduous task, itself. Adams does both on “Carolina” and makes it feel more like a bedroom demo than a far-reaching anthem.
You’ll find many incarnations of this highlight from “Gold” circling the web, but the studio version stands on its own. The lyrics “Well, everybody wants to go forever / I just want to burn up hard and bright” are among the most memorable of his career.
6. “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.”
2007’s “Easy Tiger” was a grower for many Ryan Adams fans, myself included. But it was the simple gems like this that held the record together as a cohesive package. The minimal instrumentation and natural reverb might make you think Adams is singing over your shoulder.
5. “Let It Ride”
The quintessential road song. The song that starts many a mixtape, the song that sounds just as good in the dead of night on lonesome two-lane roads as it does pulling into your next major city on the interstate. The song that never, ever gets old.
4. “Why Do They Leave?”
An oft-overlooked deep cut from “Heartbreaker,” this ballad shows Adams at his lovelorn, lonesome, best. And the delicate mouth harp accents are among the prettiest he’s ever played on record.
3. “Strawberry Wine”
Adams is a storyteller, pure and simple. But rarely do his songs meander into actual novellas, as is the case with “Strawberry Wine,” a three-part tale that could very well provide the screenplay for a Hollywood tear jerker. Apologizes for the low quality audio.
2. “To Be Young”
A debut album opener if there ever was one. This was Adams announcing himself to the world post-Whiskeytown. Young, cocky, reckless. This is the type of country-rock song that even giants like Gram Parsons would be proud to call their own. Put it on when your next house party is just reaching that “jumping off” point. Your guests will thank you.
1. “Come Pick Me Up”
Straying from hyperbole is a challenge when you get to the end of any countdown. Which is why I’ll say, with slight restraint, that “Come Pick Me Up” may be one of the best songs of the new millennium, by any artist. As David Letterman says in the introduction, “It’s a tremendous song, and I couldn’t be happier that we get to hear it live here tonight.” Here’s hoping he plays it at the Buell tonight.
Ryan Adams plays the Temple Buell Theatre in Denver. tonight. Tickets are sold out.