Celebrated singer-songwriter Ryan Adams has earned sneering headlines for abusing his bandmates, his audience, and unsympathetic music critics. He's teased, if affectionately, for giving new meaning to the word ''prolific" because he likes to release more than one album in a year.
And yet, while Adams has sometimes let his temper and ego run wild, his chief reaction to such criticism has been to keep his head down and make even more music, much of it quite good. His latest solo album ''29," out today, is his third release this year, which is a lot, even for him. Its stripped down, confessional moodiness is a departure from his previous 2005 releases, the double CD ''Cold Roses" and ''Jacksonville City Nights." Thanks in part to his alt-country backing band the Cardinals, the songs boast a classic country sound and sensibility that recall his early days fronting Whiskeytown.
But because he makes so much music so quickly, his songs sometimes sound sketched in haphazardly, like he's the smart kid who never studies because he'd rather achieve accidental brilliance than risk trying and failing. ''Starlite Diner" and ''Blue Sky Blues" are pretty, piano-dusted laments that skid toward maudlin vagueness and raise the question of what great heights Adams might achieve if he devoted an entire year to crafting just one album.
Still, he does toss off dozens of perfect moments without any apparent effort. Album opener ''Twenty Nine" is overheated roadhouse boogie full of singing guitar riffs, while the slight, Neil Young-ish acoustic guitar ballad, ''Strawberry Wine," gets under your skin with its reedy, plaintive croon. And during ''Carolina Rain," Adams sings, ''I met Percy and I married her in July/But if only to be closer to you, Caroline," with such a knotty mix of wistful romance and wry pathos it rates as some of his best songwriting. Even when the drama surrounding Adams grows tiresome, he gives us plenty of songs that never do.