Considering the head-spinning frequency of its lineup changes and the sole authorship of its songs, Whiskeytown has no reason to continue now that leader Ryan Adams has released a solo disc, other than its cool name and the fact that there's probably a contract somewhere with Adams' signature on it for a label bigger than Chicago's peerless Bloodshot. Like Bob Dylan in reverse, Adams made a couple of fantastic, booming records with Whiskeytown, a Band-like group of alt-country homeboys, but he has narrowed his vision to make his own Bringing It All Back Home. Heartbreaker is mostly hushed, with few flourishes, country or otherwise. It's also enormously satisfying, hauntingly sad and produced with appropriate subtlety and slink.
The best rocker, "To Be Young," isn't quite "Subterranean Homesick Blues," but the song shakes its ass to the same rough-hewn rhythm and seems to have been recorded in a hardwood-floored parlor. (The only other up-tempo number is a great cop of the Stones' Exile on Main Street boogie "Rip This Joint" called, with deserved smugness, "Shakedown on Ninth Street.") "To Be Young" is preceded by a good-natured bet between Adams and guitarist David Rawlings about where to find the Morrissey song "Suedehead," making Heartbreaker one of about eight albums ever to feature genuinely funny studio chatter, and the only Americana disc to reference any member of the Smiths -- lyrically or otherwise.
For pedigree's sake, the disc includes instrumental and vocal work from Rawlings partners Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris and Kim Richey, but their contributions cleave seamlessly to Adams' vision; Harris, so often distractingly recognizable, is actually hard to hear at first on "Oh My Sweet Carolina." It makes you wish she'd make a whole disc of Adams songs. But then, Heartbreaker proves that this terrific songwriter handles his own work so brilliantly that it's worth celebrating when Adams makes a whole disc of Adams songs.