La Cienega Just Smiled – Ryan Adams (Gold, 2001)
Once he left Whiskeytown and went out on his own Ryan Adams immediately went about cultivating his own cult following to, mostly terrific, effect. His 2001 album “Gold” featured tons of great material (“When the Stars Go Blue” and “New York, New York”), but both are inferior, in my humble opinion, to this excellent paean to heartbreak set to alt-country music.
The song shuffles in almost unassumingly with a lilting piano, what sounds like a metronome keeping the beat and strumming of an acoustic guitar. Once Adams starts singing the bass unobtrusively joins in. Lyrically it seems like he’s grappling with either a girl he likes who doesn’t like him back or the same way, or with the end of a relationship. It’s lovelorn longing as art to stirring results.
The best part
The songs becomes very poignant for me when he starts singing at about the 3:08 mark “And I hold you close in the back of my mind. Feels so good but damn, it makes me hurt” with a little more force than the first time around. When he wraps up the singing with “La Cienega just smiles and says I’ll see you around” with a heart-tugging warble that pulls my strings every time. The almost beach-fuzzed guitar (it sounds like it would belong on a Jan & Dean record but works in this context) played over strings that fades the song out are majestic and just pure magic to me.
This song is as close as I can come to liking country music but in my defense I’ll say if most country music was this great, I’d be a huge fan. This song is unmistakeably great no matter what musical genre it falls under.