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From his time with Whiskeytown to his solo career, the enigmatic Ryan Adams has been responsible for dragging country music into the mainstream, which is ironic given his well documented dislike for the genre. In a roller coaster career spanning almost two decades, the singer-songwriter from Jacksonville has been unbelievably prolific, with 3 Whiskeytown albums and 15 solo albums to his name, as well as multiple EPs and side projects. Although widely known as a country artist, he’s crossed genres with varying degrees of success.

We take a look at his solo career and have ranked his albums from worst to best. As always, it’s a hard task. And when they have as many LPs as Adams, it’s even harder. Our decision was a democratic one taken between our writers, but of course the list is truly subjective.

15. Orion


Released in 2010, Orion was an unusual foray into heavy metal for Adams. Perhaps making a statement, it was the first record released since his split with backing band, The Cardinals. With only one of the thirteen tracks on the LP stretching over 3 minutes, Orion is a short, sharp burst of angst from the usually sedate musician. The album verges on self-indulgent but Adams has probably earned the right to a little hedonism.

Stand out track: Electrosnake
Release date: 2010

14. III/IV

III/IV album artwork

The 5th album with backing band The Cardinals, III/IV was delayed in its release due to it being rejected by former record label, Lost Highway. Spawned from the same sessions as 2007’s Easy Tiger, Adams later released the double album under his own Pax-Am label. III/IV is probably most akin in style to Adams’ throwaway Rock N Roll.

Stand out track: Breakdown Into The Resolve
Release date: 2010

13. Jacksonville City Nights

Jacksonville City Nights album cover

The second of a trio of albums released in 2005, Jacksonville City Nights was reference (not for the first time in his career) to Adams’ hometown in North Carolina. As with all the records he released in 2005, there were moments of brilliance, but with the occasional filler. Highlight is the beautiful “Dear John”, written with, and featuring fellow Americana singer-songwriter Norah Jones.

Stand out track: Dear John
Release date: 2005

12. 29

29 album cover

29, recorded with legendary producer Ethans John when he was the same age, saw Adams in reflective mood. The 9 tracks on the LP summarise each year of the songwriter’s 20s and the album was the last of 3 albums that Adams released over a 7 month period in 2005. Largely piano-based, it is one of his harder to listen to albums, but as with everything he releases, there are moments of pure inspiration, not least “Night Birds” and “Elizabeth You Were Born To Play That Part”.

Stand out track: Elizabeth You Were Born To Play That Part
Release date: 2005

11. 1989

Ryan Adams, 1989 album cover

Adams’ cover of Taylor Swift’s pop classic was met with a mixed reception and it’s fair to say it divided opinion. There were those who stated that it brought some ‘credibility’ to Swift’s music, which led to cries that the pop princess had been mansplained. Whatever side of the fence you sit on, it’s clear that Adams’ take on 1989 is an impressive piece of work, turning Swift’s interpretation of the songs on their head. The singer herself is a fan, stating what an honour it was for the country icon to cover her work.

It’s the sort of ‘out there’ thing we’ve come to expect from Adams but it was clear that the release was more than just a crazy publicity stunt. Listen upon listen unearths new layers of the love that went into its craft.

Stand out track: Style
Release date: 2015

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  1. You loat me at Jacksonville City Nights. One of his best albums…and lists that have one item per page suck.

  2. Euan Harris
    Euan Harris on

    Thanks for the comments. Music’s all about opinions and with 14 albums there are always going to be disagreements – as the comments all prove!

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