Whiskeytown Pneumonia

With front-man Ryan Adams now established as a solo artist - his second album, Gold, is due out soon - this much-belated follow-up to the band's major-label debut, Stranger's Almanac, is more than an anti-climax. Adams and company can't be faulted for finally putting it out, considering the amount of stress that undoubtedly led to this point, but instead of going out in a blaze of glory, Whiskeytown ends its life with a whimper. Things start off promisingly with the Band-esque "Ballad Of Carol Lynn," but they quickly turn to paint-by-numbers contempo folk-pop. This wouldn't be a bad thing if Adams hadn't so successfully shed that approach on last year's Heartbreaker. Whereas that record showed him daringly stretching his wings, both musically and lyrically, Pneumonia, by comparison, drags along at a meandering pace, with Adams never finding whatever it is he's looking for. Paul Westerberg has always been a big influence in Adams' writing and there are strong echoes of the older, wiser mentor's recent work throughout. But as with the Replacements' disappointing last gasp, All Shook Down, there's an air of "let's just get it over with" pervading Pneumonia. As with Westerberg, Adams clearly needed a break from his band to gain a new perspective on his work. It's just a shame that this album already is a footnote in what will hopefully be a long and diverse solo career. (Universal)