Cuts Like a Knife
Ryan Adams Delivers a Heartbroken Return to Form

Recently Ryan Adams wrote this piece in the New York Times about the first time he was truly rattled by a heckler.

The story is legendary: he was playing the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in 2002 when an inebriated gentleman who had apparently just discovered that Adams’ name is very similar to that of a Canadian pop star, shouted for “Summer of ‘69” repeatedly. Adams threw the man out of the show (after refunding his money), but the press caught wind and the story spread so far and wide that Adams couldn’t escape the jokes, and it drove him to therapy. He’s made peace with this part of his life, even covering “Summer of ‘69” a couple years ago, and this article seems to be his final step toward putting it behind him.

But even if he hadn’t admitted to a greater appreciation for Bryan Adams, you’d be able to hear it in his recent work. Adams’ new record, Prisoner, is a sharp mix of ‘80s Tom Petty and ‘80s Bryan Adams, all reverbed guitars and downbeat pop about lost love. It comes three years after his self-titled album, itself a whirlwind of chiming jangle-pop right out of the Petty playbook, but this one is served with a helping of heartbreak – it grew directly from his divorce from Mandy Moore, and doesn’t hold back on the anguish.

That makes it sound like a slog, but in truth it’s another set of piercing, well-written work from Adams. He was once considered one of the finest songwriters around, particularly during his more country-inflected years, and though it has been a while since anyone talked about him in those terms, he rarely fails to impress. Prisoner is a fine return to form after the slight Ryan Adams (and the curious full-album cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989), its 12 songs staring loneliness in the face and writing down what they see.

Opener “Do You Still Love Me” is the loudest thing here, its electric bursts underpinning Adams’ pleading voice as he repeats the title phrase. The organ and guitar work here is pure Heartbreakers, the lyrics pure diary entry: “I’ve been thinking about you baby, you’ve been on my mind, why can’t I feel your love, my heart must be so blind…” It’s not a strong couplet, but it sets the tone for the record – virtually every song is about dealing with emptiness and hoping for reconciliation, even when he admits (as he does on “Anything I Say to You Now”) that he doesn’t deserve it.

The focus on heartbreak does bring up that other Adams here and there, particularly on “Shiver and Shake,” which is reminiscent of “Run to You,” and on “Breakdown,” on which Adams laments the “pain he can’t hide” and his “black as coal” soul. Thankfully, Adams also sounds like himself frequently here. “To Be Without You” could have fit nicely on Ashes and Fire, its delicate acoustic foundation underpinning Adams’ sense of hopelessness: “Nothing really matters anymore.” “Broken Anyway” is a classic Adams ballad, as is “Tightrope.” When he strips it down, Adams shows he hasn’t lost a thing as a songwriter.

Prisoner is not an easy listen, and was obviously born from a lot of pain. But it’s a strong one, perhaps Adams’ strongest since his time with the Cardinals. Much of it really does feel like taking a Tardis trip back to the days of Cuts Like a Knife, but the style suits Adams, particularly this heartbroken version of Adams. I’m glad he’s made peace with his almost-namesake, and I hope he makes peace with his loneliness soon. But I’m grateful he captured both things on Prisoner. It’s one of his best in quite some time.

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I never know how to approach it when family bands break up or change lineups. Because of the deeper ties between siblings, these changes can’t just be business as usual, but my instinct is to treat them that way, and not think about family dynamics at all.

So when I tell you that Eisley, a band comprised entirely of siblings, now is fronted by only three of the five DuPrees, know that I am resisting trying to find out more about what could have driven this group apart. The core of Eisley has long been songwriting sisters Sherri, Chauntelle and Stacy, along with their drumming brother Weston and cousin Garron. But the Eisley that presents itself on their fifth album, I’m Only Dreaming, consists of Sherri, Weston, Garron and guitarist Elle Puckett. Chauntelle and Stacy, the band says, have left to pursue their own musical projects.

What does this mean for Eisley? Surprisingly, the change is not immediately apparent – I’m Only Dreaming contains the same lovely guitar-driven pop for which this band is known, and if it’s a little bit more subdued and dreamy, it’s only a little bit. Sherri DuPree-Bemis sings everything here (save for a quick featured verse by her husband, Say Anything’s Max Bemis), and she carries the record effortlessly. The songs are often memorable, and when they’re not, they glide by without leaving a mark.

I’m particularly a fan of “Rabbit Hole,” a quiet yet bitter moment played on acoustic guitar and little else, Sherri singing “so go and berate us, go underrate us,” then following it up with a plaintive “I love you.” I’m also big on “You Are Mine,” a circular pop song with charging guitars and a sweet chorus. I’m pleased to have a new record from Eisley, even this Eisley, and when I’m Not Dreaming is playing, it’s easy to forget that this isn’t the same band that recorded Currents and Room Noises. That’s the best one could hope for, and if the remaining DuPrees keep up this standard of quality, I hope they keep the band going as long as possible.

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The Eisley album is pretty, but it loses out to Alison Krauss in this week’s beauty sweepstakes. Then again, most things would.

It’s been six years since Krauss graced us with her heavenly voice, and nearly 18 years since she did it without Union Station, her crack bluegrass band. That’s almost enough time to forget what a fantastic singer and interpreter she is, but Windy City, her fifth solo album, wastes no time reminding you. A collection of ten cover tunes of classic songs in several styles, Windy City is a brief yet beautiful thing.

At times evoking Patsy Cline and at others Dolly Parton, Windy City mainly straddles country and orchestral balladry, but is canny enough to include a full dixie band on the Osborne Brothers’ “Goodbye and So Long to You.” She goes to the Osborne well again for the title track, a straight-up classic country tune with pedal steel guitars brushing up against strings, and then delivers an absolutely crushing jazz-pop rendition of Willie Nelson’s “I Never Cared for You.” Her crack band of Nashville musicians hits home run after home run on this material.

At the center of it all is Krauss and her voice, still an absolute delight. She manages to breathe new life into old chestnuts like Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind” and Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me,” and positively shines on the piano-led rendition of Roger Miller’s gorgeous “River in the Rain.” She doesn’t play her fiddle as much as I would like, but her solo albums are almost always about that voice. They’re infrequent yet insistent reminders that Krauss is a pretty wonderful artist and a national treasure.

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That’s it for this week. Next week, man, so many options. I have no idea. Join me in seven days to find out. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at

See you in line Tuesday morning.