The youthful, long-haired Bryan Adams that appears on the cover of his latest album seems a total about-face from the spiky-haired, leather-clad incarnation that first lit up American airwaves more than 30 years ago. Yet without the former’s keen sense of rock and soul, you wouldn’t have the latter, the reckless rocker with the dynamite rasp who grabbed our attention in the first place.
Tracks of My Years, Adams’ first studio album in six years, is a scrapbook of musical memories that define the man and his tastes. Here, the Canadian legend’s influences run the gamut from the archetypal Beatles (“Any Time at All”) and Chuck Berry (“Rock And Roll Music”) to the genius of Ray Charles (“I Can’t Stop Loving You”) to the swoon of Smokey Robinson (“The Tracks of My Tears”).
But Adams’ goal here isn’t to duplicate the original recordings; rather, it’s to inject his “18 Til I Die” vigor into tunes that clearly inspired him to pick up his first six-string, play it until his fingers bled and get behind a microphone with the true passion of a rock star. Sure, the rasp may have gone down an octave over the years, but the musical fire inside Adams still burns strong.
Among these 16 tracks, a trio of highlights stands out. The first is Adams’ trippy yet comforting take on Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” a song that shows off the singer’s tender side. Next is the album’s one original, “She Knows Me,” a tune that easily fits into the ’60s world of peppy, three-minute singles. The last is a somber rendition of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” Stripping the song of its original production values, leaving just voice and piano, Adams delivers a performance as lasting as Carl Wilson’s lingering tenor.
Thinking about his younger years has caused Bryan Adams to produce this keeper of an album. Like its cover, you’ll just want to let your hair down and soak up the sounds.
– Ira Kantor