Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
A case can be made that Ryan Adams’ actual recording debut arrived five years before his inaugural solo effort. Released in 1995, Faithless Street is the first album from the Raleigh, North Carolina based alt-country pioneers Whiskeytown, the band Adams fronted and formed withCaitlin Cary, Phil Wandscher, Eric "Skillet" Gilmore, and Steve Grothman. But not too long after the group completed recording its third album Pneumonia in 1999—the successor to 1997’s Strangers Almanac—and then found its release stuck in indefinite limbo due to record label consolidation, the band parted ways.
Adams wasted precious little time in returning to the studio to craft his proper solo affair, which arrived in September 2000. Though he had developed a penchant for eloquent and evocative songwriting with Whiskeytown, the Ethan Johns produced Heartbreaker seemed to signal the formal arrival—and acknowledgment by others—of Adams’ remarkable songwriting prowess. Standout songs abound, including the bittersweet stomper “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High),” the yearning ballad “My Winding Wheel,” the Emmylou Harris assisted ode to the restless Adams’ native stomping grounds “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” and the conflicted nod to an unhealthy lover on the harmonica imbued “Come Pick Me Up.”
As a standalone LP, Heartbreaker is magnificent. But within the broader context of the impressive fifteen studio albums that have followed since, Adams’ debut served as the foundational catalyst for what has become one of the most prolific discographies across the past two decades, from one of the most gifted songsmiths of the 21st century.