Ryan Adams
Pax Am/Blue Note

Being a Ryan Adams fan traditionally has not been for the faint of heart. For every “When the Stars Go Blue,” there have been moments of self-indulgence and self-destruction that rival either Gallagher brother’s. But the thoughtfulness and maturity that permeated his 2011 album Ashes & Fire are even more evident here; subtly shaded moods have replaced any trace of cockiness. The music on Ryan Adams simmers, and shimmers, with understated intensity, offsetting lyrics of restlessness and worry, even outright fear for something, or someone, he hasn’t yet lost — or maybe he has, but hasn’t faced it (because, as he notes in “Feels Like Fire,” “You will always be the hardest thing/I ever will let go”). Adams’ genius lies in marrying that darkness to near-pop melodies, and keeping the production spare — except for his layers of elegant guitar work, augmented by guest Johnny Depp (take note: this is a monumental guitar album). He’s also writing Springsteen-level lyrics in songs such as “My Wrecking Ball” and “Shadows,” and in the muted tension of “I Just Might,” evokes Nebraska outright. Whatever relationships his pain-baring lyrics might reference, it’s a good sign that wife Mandy Moore (“My Bug” in his thank-yous) contributes vocals. Maybe turning 40 will help settle his soul even more. — LYNNE MARGOLIS

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