Ryan Adams has always had an entertainingly volatile relationship with his fans. His reaction to the clamoring masses still holding out hope for a proper sequel to Heartbreaker has ranged from indifference (releasing the cacophonous Rock N Roll at the height of his popularity) to outright derision (“I do not fucking like country music and I don’t own any of it…I only like country music as an irony,” he brayed in a 2014 interview). But on his latest effort, recorded over two shows at Carnegie Hall last November, he not only seems to enjoy playfully bantering with the crowd, but takes pleasure in giving the people what they want, for once: intimate solo acoustic performances of fan favorites, without any ego or ’80s AOR trappings to get in the way of his pristine voice and heart-on-sleeve lyrics.
A condensed version of the 42-track, six-LP Live at Carnegie Hall, released in April, Ten Songs from Live at Carnegie Hall naturally lacks the career-spanning sprawl of the full version. In addition to two previously unreleased songs from Adams’s famously vast trove of outtakes (the strummy “How Much Light,” which sounds like something from a Pete Townshend solo album, and the Nick Drake-channeling “This Is Where We Meet in My Mind”), three of the 10 songs are from 2001’s Gold, another three from last year’s Ryan Adams, and two from Heartbreaker, which doesn’t exactly amount to a comprehensive survey, considering Adams has released 14 albums over the last 15 years. But Ten Songs still captures the essence of the Carnegie Hall shows. Interspersed with genuinely hilarious self-depreciating quips about his past drug use and the notoriously mopey nature of his songs (“I would assume many of you, probably like 86 percent of you are on Paxil, so you understand about depression. You’re at a fucking Ryan Adams show, you know what I mean?”), every song is a hushed, delicate showcase for Adams’s tender croon, which sounds clearer and better than ever.
That goes for songs that could be described the same way in their original studio incarnations (“Oh My Sweet Carolina,” the winkingly overwrought piano ballad “Sylvia Plath”), and songs that were originally nine-minute guitar epics (“Nobody Girl,” which thankfully sounds less bitter and lumbering in solo acoustic form). Sure, as a result, everything sounds more or less the same, but only the inevitable rendition of “New York, New York” doesn’t translate well to the chosen format (doing away with the song’s rhythmic bounce is one thing, but I’m not sure how Adams thought he could improve it by ignoring the vocal melody). There may not be many surprises musically on Ten Songs, but it’s surprising enough that Adams has let the façade down and finally let us hear his music in its purest form.