The Joup Friday Album: Ryan Adams’ cover of 1989

Ryan Adams 1989So I intercepted that last tag…because well…maybe I just needed to and all the signs pointed that way. Sometimes life throws a few things at you and you probably know what I mean in your own way. Change, sadness, uncertainty, self-examination. Dodge, push, move, repeat. But move…move on and try your damnedest to look back in fondness or at least without anger. Live now. Evolve. This version of 1989 was suggested by a friend and I was a bit skeptic, but knowing Ryan Adams and his outstanding catalogue I had to give this a listen. I will fully admit I cannot boast of being a Taylor Swift aficionado thus I’d not heard any of 1989 with the exception of the singles like “Shake it Off” and “Bad Blood.” And at the point of this writing, I’ve still not. I prefer it that way, I feel I can be more objective rather then comparing the two works. I do fully recognize Swift as the primary songwriter and lyricist for these songs, thus critique of any lyrics would be directed that way. I will say she is talented. More talented then my original perception of her abilities. Which goes to show you…

We’ll get Lisa on board in next few weeks again. So let’s travel back to 1989.

It’s not often that a prolific recognized recording artist covers an entire album. Perhaps live as Phish has done with “The Dark Side of the Moon,” “The Beatles” (white Album), and “Exile on Main St.” The Smithereens covered “Tommy” and put out “Meet the Smithereens” which covered “Meet the Beatles” in it’s entirety. Beck produced a bootleg copy of “The Velvet Underground and Nico.” There are more examples here but none of a major recording artist’s recent release…a year after.
That’s what Ryan Adams and his assembled band took on in 2015 when they covered Taylor Swift’s 1989. During the recording of the album Swift had this to say about the recording when she surprised Adams on a radio show in New York.

“What struck me immediately when I listened to it is how they’re not cover songs,” Swift said. “They’re reimaginings of my songs, and you can tell that he was in a very different place emotionally when he put his spin on them than I was when I wrote them. There’s this beautiful aching sadness and longing in this album that doesn’t exist in the original.” (TIME MAGAZINE)

For those in the know about Ryan Adams and I imagine there are a few at least, he writes and portrays deep emotional music. He evokes and commands emotion. Name any of his albums and there are stories of personal turmoil, hardship or heartbreak. And he laments well. Music is good healer for dealing with difficult situations. Heck art in general as we all know. Listening to it, playing it, talking about it. I believe Adams knew exactly what he was doing the first time he heard 1989. He had a vision and a feel for it which likened closely to The Smiths. I don’t quite hear that but I can’t say that he is that far off. Adams is no Morrissey and I don’t want him or need him to be. Ryan Adams does just fine as himself and it shows in his version of 1989.

His Band:
Ryan Adams — vocals, guitars, synthesizer, pump organ, piano, trash can
Nate Lotz — drums, percussion (studio and touring drummer for Adams among others)
Charlie Stavish — bass guitar, synthesizer, percussion (studio bassist and producer who’s worked w Adams before)
Nate Walcott — piano, organ, pump organ, synthesizer (toured w Red Hot Chili Peppers among others)
Tod Wisenbaker — guitars (La Sera among others)

Simply said, I want this band. I knew it before even listening to the album and…just man, how can you go wrong with this line-up.

The feel: Definitely a late 70’s Springsteen vibe but sonically superior. You can here this from his cover of the single “Shake it Off.” Simple pulsing beat by Lotz, tasteful guitars by Wisenbaker (Totally Tod) and healthy doze of reverb never hurt anyone. Adams and Wisenbaker wear on their sleeves so well. You can also hear this on upbeat rock version of “Styles” and the dreamlike string induced version of “Out of The Woods.”

Adams continue to haunt with the intro and verses to “I Wish You Would” until full takes it stride during the chorus. An ideal contrast. This contrast continues with “Bad Blood” when Adams breaks away with his acoustic guitar during the pre-chorus and the bridge. Clever arrangement that really emphasizes Swifts telling lyrics.

Adams’ cover “Wildest Dreams” sounds something off “Cold Roses” his album with The Cardinals. Terrific pacing, beautiful arpeggios, and yes that reverb. He and his strings keep haunting with “How you Get The Girl.” It lulls a bit with “This Love” but again, Adams’ piano and Wisenbaker’s guitar is what sell the crescendo. But let’s continue that dream with the surfy California cool “I Know Places.” Wisenbaker really shines with the big guitar on the outro of the tune. What amazes me throughout the whole project is how much Swift’s lyrics translate to Adams’ vision. Maybe none more then this song:

“Baby I know places we won’t be found and they’ll be chasing our trace tryin’ to track us down
Cause I, I know places we can hide, I know places
They are the hunters, we are the foxes
And we run
Just grab my hand and don’t ever drop it
My love”

Landing the project perfectly is “Clean.” Adams’ harmonizes his own voice to wrap up the album on colorful midtempo rendition.

It is worth the listen, maybe at work, maybe at home…yes at home. Turn the TV off and stop reading this…put on the record…move.


Joe Grez

Joe Grez

Joe Grzesik (JGrez) is still an artist developer trying to keep up with new technologies. Photography still has been one of his strongest passions. However, now his main focus has led him back to music where he teaches guitar, piano, saxophone and percussion privately. Music education can never be short changed.

One Response to The Joup Friday Album: Ryan Adams’ cover of 1989
  1. Shawn C. Baker Reply

    Great write up. Really, one of your best pieces. You should come back on a regular basis Joe, we at Joup miss You!

    I did not even know this existed. I haven’t heard the original version either, though I will begrudgingly admit to liking the single that has the James Dean line in it. I’ll give this a go.

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