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Ryan Adams’ third release of 2005 — yes, third — is stuffed with atmospheric meanderings and often minimalist tunes. Though slightly removed from his alt-country roots, 29 sometimes recalls Adams’ previous Love is Hell. The opener, “Twenty Nine,” however, is a rehashing of Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’” and is the only shit-kickin’ country-rock song on the album. Elsewhere, Adams offers contemporary blues vocals with aplomb; though “Starlite Diner” and “Voices” will convince the listener that he hired a vocal coach. “The Sadness” is confusing, though it could sound track a good drunken night in a Mexican border town. The disc’s centerpiece, “Nightbirds,” is a simplistic and somewhat typical Adams piano ballad that’s intensified with echo and reverb; the scenic imagery and atmospheric guitar swells make it the most rewarding four minutes here. 29 is the manifestation of an overworked artist — more or less a dusty box of old demos, reworked. It’s the final chapter in Adams’ back-to-his-roots releases, and though the album lacks uniformity, it’s got real beauty. It’s Adams’ best release all year.

Dustin Walsh writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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