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Ryan Adams, Musically and Verbally Prolific

In addition to his own work, Adams has produced a new album by Willie Nelson, and has also recently worked with alternative rocker Melissa Auf der Maur.
In addition to his own work, Adams has produced a new album by Willie Nelson, and has also recently worked with alternative rocker Melissa Auf der Maur.

Singer-songwriter Ryan Adams hasn't released a new record in the last six months. This may not seem remarkable, except for the fact that last year, Adams put out three CDs in the space of seven months. He has recently been in New York, preparing his next album.

In conversation, Adams is combative but charming. He acknowledges that his chaotic work life can cause problems.

"I probably should have took a break, but I don't know," he says. "I take a break for a couple of days, or a week, and I start playing. You lose stuff along the way, like girlfriends, your mind, your sense of entitlement. It's very humbling."

Adams' first solo record, Heartbreaker, made him a critical darling. His next one, Gold, positioned him as alt-country's first crossover star.

Peter Blackstock, co-editor of the music magazine No Depression, says of Adams: "I think he always knew that he wanted to and could be a rock star if he put all of his life into it. More than anything, he had good songwriting and good backing musicians in Whiskeytown. But as much as attitude is part of any musician's identity, Ryan certainly had that going for him as well."

Adams didn't take well to being a Next Big Thing. He sparred with fans from the stage -- in 2002, he even kicked a heckler out of a show for requesting a song by the Canadian rocker Bryan Adams. He also got himself into a war of words with Jack White of the White Stripes.

Meanwhile, he turned up in gossip columns with actresses and singers on his arm. Finally, in early 2004, he fell off a stage and broke his wrist. Across record-store counters and in chat rooms, the places where rock stars are judged, Adams never seemed to look good.

Another predilection got him into trouble: Call it the Ryan Adams Rock Critic Outreach Program. Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and Amanda Petrusich of the music Web site Pitchfork have both gotten phone calls from Adams in response to negative reviews they had written.

"It's hard to argue with that impulse of wanting to say, 'Wait, that's not fair,'" Petrusich says. "I think if someone says something mean about you, you either walk away or you put your fists up, and he always puts his fists up."

Two years of battles took their toll. Even Adams noticed the damage his reputation had done to his career.

"I was falling into this whole archetype of being a loudmouthed bastard, and that's not how I felt," he says. "And I felt like, let me just put these records out then. Let them speak."

He spoke volumes, in the form of three records he recorded and released in quick succession, after his wrist healed: Cold Roses, 29 and Jacksonville City Nights. Critics were mostly positive, but it was hard not to notice that no one was talking about Ryan Adams the rising star any more.

But Adams has a small, diehard fanbase, and some defenders in the industry. And he isn't one to obsess over commercial considerations.

Adams says he likes his art messy, and he's going to keep making it.

"My intentions have been, and are always, to just really get behind what my ideas are musically and to just ride this thing out," he says, "'cause it feels good, and I think for the most part it's good music. Even when it's not, I'd like to still search for something that could be even like a little bit mindblowing or shocking to me."

He vows, "I'm not gonna stop. Ever. Not while I'm here."

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