It was, Ryan Adams says, this girl he’s been spending time with; the title of this album is her fault. “She wanted to go out to dinner at eight; I wanted to go right away. She said, ‘Easy, Tiger.’ And that hit me. It stuck with me to the point where I called up Neal [that would be Neal Casal, guitarist of The Cardinals] and left a message on his answering machine with those two words. ‘Don’t forget this,’ I said, ‘cause I want to use it.’ ”
Adams laughs and adds, “I think he’s still got that message.”
And I understand that. Some things you just save, because they’re worth playing over again.
I think there are really only two kinds of pop music CDs these days. There are the ones you listen to only once or twice, maybe downloading the single good song to your iPod or computer; then there are others that grow stronger, sweeter, and more necessary each time you play them. Gold was that way; Cold Roses was that way; so was Jacksonville City Nights. I won’t say Adams is the best North American singer-songwriter since Neil Young…but I won’t say he isn’t, either. What I know is there has never been a Ryan Adams record quite as strong and together as Easy Tiger; it’s got enough blue-eyed, blue-steel soul (with the faintest country tinge) to make me think of both Marvin Gaye and the Righteous Brothers. Probably ridiculous, but true. And the songs themselves are beautiful—the lyrics tightly focused and brief, the feeling one of melancholy calm that will probably be a revelation to fans that remember the old, sometimes angry Ryan Adams.
He agrees that the tone of Easy Tiger is different — not dark, just different—and suggests in passing that it may have something to do with both sobering up and growing up (he’s 32). Then he goes on to talk about the process, which is clearly something close to his heart. “I write on a manual typewriter,” he says. “I get up, I have a cup of coffee, I sit down at the typewriter. I never spent a useless day behind a typewriter.”
I say amen to that, but he’s already going on.
“It’s like—I don’t know, sometimes it’s like chasing a pretty girl on the beach. And things I never thought I could do…I can do.”
I mention how prolific he is, aware that I might be touching a sore point. After all, there are plenty of critics who seem to think that’s a bad thing. Adams, however, just laughs.
“Yeah, yeah, in America people give you shit for working hard,” he says. “But…it’s process, that’s all. I process things. I went into the dream business. If people need ‘em, I’ve got extra.”
He talks enthusiastically about all the unreleased material he hopes to set free in a box set, maybe at the end of the year (“If people hear it all, then they’ll get the connections,” he says), but that’s then. Now there’s this, maybe the best Ryan Adams CD ever. And I know you want to listen to it right away. But slow down. Take your time. This album asks for that, and it will reward your full attention.
In other words—easy, Tiger.
Easy Tiger was produced by Jamie Candiloro and features The Cardinals:
Neal Casal – guitar
Brad Pemberton – drums
Chris Feinstein – bass
Jon Graboff – pedal steel
Easy Tiger is Ryan Adams’ ninth studio album, following Heartbreaker (2000), Gold (2001), Demolition (2002), Rock N Roll (2003), Love Is Hell (2004), Cold Roses (2005), Jacksonville City Nights (2005) and 29 (2006).