Madness, sadness, love, crime, death, hope, drugs, booze and religion. Ryan Adams wrote the songs throughout his tumultuous and confusing twenties. It's a compelling confusion - full of complex stories and recurring themes that fit a cohesive concept.
A track that would have fit Adams' 2005 albums recorded with the Cardinals, "Carolina Rain" is all pedal steel and Southern Gothic storytelling. But "29" is a solo effort, with producer Ethan Johns providing most of the backing, so the tracks are stripped down. "Starlite Diner" is a wistful piece of nostalgia that uses piano to evoke a timeless moment in time. "Voices" is filled with fiery biblical themes, but is delivered with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a vocal that ranges from sleepy to an aggrieved falsetto.
"Strawberry Wine" is a surreal tale that meanders through life and death for nearly eight minutes. Not every track is successful - giving a track called "The Sadness" an uptempo, spaghetti western production is ironic, but not ironic enough to make it interesting - but most are. "29" is every bit as self-centered and indulgent as the twentysomething hipster life it covers, but Adams is a writer worth indulging.