From Whiskeytown to Taylor Swift: A Ranked Guide to Ryan Adams

By Haley Shipley ’17

With 19 studio albums from three different bands under his belt, Ryan Adams has made a lot of music. He’s done everything from country/alt, to concept metal, to Taylor Swift. So which album is the Ryan Adams album that everyone should listen to? Which albums are just okay? Can you even rank a discography that changes tone and genre on a whim? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that this Ryan Adams fan isn’t going to try.

Also this is just my own personal opinion and will continue to change. Honestly, I changed the order of this list like 4 times just writing it. And don’t even get me started on how hard it was to only pick one song from each album as my favorite…

  1. 29/Ryan Adams/2005

29 may be the last on the list but that isn’t to say that it isn’t a good album. It’s just different. 29 feel much more experimental than his other work and the majority of the songs feel like they go on for just a little bit too long to be fully enjoyable.

Favorite Track: “Elizabeth, You Were Born To Play That Part”

  1. Ashes & Fire/Ryan Adams/2011

Ashes & Fire is low on this list because it was just really disappointing. I was so excited when I heard he was making a new solo album, but it just fell flat. None of the songs seemed to have the emotional punch that his other albums do and it feels a bit one-note.

Favorite Track: “Lucky Now”

  1. Cardinology/Ryan Adams & The Cardinals/2008

Cardinology has so much potential to be a fun album but it just isn’t – although this may have something to do with it being a break-up album. But as a break-up album it doesn’t have that “you can do this” vibe that he’s mastered in the past.

Favorite Track: “Magick”

  1. Pneumonia/Whiskeytown/2001

This album has the coolest cover. It was written during the breakup of the band and it just doesn’t seem to come together well. It has some really amazing songs, but then it has some not so great songs. This is one of the only albums of his that has me skipping songs.

Favorite Track: “Sit & Listen to the Rain”

  1. Jacksonville City Nights/Ryan Adams & The Cardinals/2005

Adams returns to his country/alt roots here but it doesn’t have the same depth that it used to. All of the songs just seem fine, with nothing really standing out other than “Dear John”. And man, do I want more collaborations between Adams and Norah Jones.

Favorite Track: “Dear John” ft. Norah Jones

  1. III/IV/Ryan Adams & The Cardinals/2010

I love it when Adams breaks away from his singer/songwriter roots. III/IV has this pop/punk vibe that I just love. Some of the songs hit that mark more than others, but overall I appreciate how different this is than anything else he did with The Cardinals.

Favorite Track: “Breakdown into the Resolve”

  1. Orion/Ryan Adams/2010

Speaking of breaking out the box… Orion is a metal concept album that is surprisingly fun. I’ve never been a huge metal fan but Orion won me over. Every time I listen to it I find something new.

Favorite Track: “Fire and Ice”

  1. Love is Hell/Ryan Adams/2004

Love is Hell is my favorite album to listen to on a rainy day. The songs are just sad and sometimes that’s all you need. This album has a lot of greatest hits, not to mention the best version of “Wonderwall” ever.

Favorite Track: “Hotel Chelsea Nights”

  1. Live @ Carnegie Hall/Ryan Adams/2015

Normally live albums are my favorites, but having seen him live twice this just doesn’t compare. It’s good, really good, but it doesn’t capture that feeling of a live performance as well as I want. But if you never get to see him live, this is a decent substitute.

Favorite Track: “New York, New York”

  1. Strangers Almanac/ Whiskeytown/1997

This whole album feels like it could be a soundtrack to a Coen brother’s film. I don’t really know what else to say other than it deserves to round up the top 10.

Favorite track: “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight”

  1. Demolition/Ryan Adams/2002

Demolition has so many great songs on it. It’s one of his most honest albums and it makes me feel like I can just start over and do anything. While my favorite track may be a bit of a downer, the rest of it is hopeful and bright.

Favorite track: “Dear Chicago”

  1. Easy Tiger/Ryan Adams/2007

This may be his most cohesive album. While the songs are musically simple, they’re some of his most emotional and poignant as well. I get these songs stuck in my head all the time and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Favorite Track: “The Sun Also Sets”

  1. Cold Roses/Ryan Adams & The Cardinals/2005

Adams put out a lot of music in 2005 and this is by far his best. There are two discs full of really moving songs. This album has some of my favorite lines of all time too. Every time I hear “this afternoon was something like a letter, the kind that someone writes but never sends”, I just get all fuzzy inside.

Favorite track: “If I Am a Stranger”

  1. Heartbreaker/Ryan Adams/ 2000

For his first solo album, he really knocked it out of the park. Although he got the title from a Maria Carey album cover, it is a heartbreaking album. It gets what it’s like to be young and sad and we all feel that way at some point.

Favorite Track: “Come Pick Me Up”

  1. Faithless Street/Whiskeytown/1995 (reissue)

I’m kind of surprised that this album ranks so high on my list. It’s by far the most country out of all of his alt albums, but damn it pulls it off. This is another album that is just begging to be the soundtrack to a movie about some sad guy coming home after he got dumped and lost his job. It’s honest and fictional all at the same time.

Favorite Track: “Empty Baseball Park”

  1. Ryan Adams/Ryan Adams/2014

This is a comeback album and no one can tell me otherwise. He’s confident and badass and it makes you feel like you can be the same. It’s the kind of album you listen to as high as your speakers can go as you drive around with the windows down.

Favorite Track: “Trouble”

  1. Rock N Roll/Ryan Adams/2003

Remember when I said that I love when Adams does something different? Well here you go. This is one of the best rock albums that has come out in the last 20 years. It’s got fun, it’s got headbanging, it’s got sadness. What else can you want? It’s such a good album to blast when you’re stressed and just want a break.

Favorite Track: “Boys”

  1. 1989/Ryan Adams/2015

I continually forget that this is all just a Taylor Swift cover album. It just feels so much like classic Ryan Adams. It’s also one of the best break-up albums of all time. It’s the break-up album you put on when you just want to drink wine and cry over your broken heart. Trust me, I’ve done this more than once and it works.

Favorite Track: “How You Get the Girl”

1.Gold/Ryan Adams/2001

Sunday was Gold’s 15th anniversary. This album has been an integral part of my life since it came out. It is by far the best break-up album ever, in my opinion. This isn’t the album you cry to, no – it’s the one you put on when you realize how much better off you are without that person. He said he wrote this album to explore hope and how it feels to kiss again – and this is just what he did. From start to finish there isn’t a song on here that isn’t great.

Favorite Track(s): “La Cienega Just Smiled,” “Gonna Make You Love Me”

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