It’s hard to make American rock with the epic sweep of Springsteen or Petty and keep it free of bombast. Ryan Adams doesn’t always manage it on Prisoner, his first album since he covered Taylor Swift’s entire 1989 album a couple of years ago, and his first set of original material since 2014. But he comes close. Between the clanging power chords and the big choruses, Adams, who also produced Prisoner, leaves ample space for intimacy. And he doesn’t bellow; he sings the tunes. Such restraint is appropriate on Prisoner’s vignettes of lost love. Shiver and Shake seethes with regret and muted passion, and a reverberating guitar coils around the plaintive Outbound Train. His heart-on-sleeve lyrics are often unambiguous: “Feels like I’m headed for a breakdown,” he sings on Breakdown; “I am a prisoner,” he declares on the title track, as a guitar chord pans prettily across the stereo. Adams is not breaking new ground with Prisoner, but it seems churlish to quibble when he’s at the peak of his powers.
Jon Dennis is Guardian's multimedia production editor and also writes about music.