On Sept. 30, Canadian songwriter Bryan Adams released his new intimate cover album, Tracks of My Years, marking the artist’s eleventh return to the studio in his career. The record features one new original and ten cover songs, acting as a time capsule of inspiration in an effort by the artist to give his listeners a glimpse into his musical past. The album is not complete without the deluxe version, however, which adds five critical tracks to the collection.
Whenever an artist releases a covers record, critics have a tendency to either rip it apart or ignore it entirely. This is usually because the record is seen as filler material, as if the artist is fulfilling the tail end of a recording contract or has gotten lazy. These misconceptions often cause the public to overlook many exceptional cover records as a result. Upon release, Tracks of My Years has not received much critical analysis. With that said, any release by one of the world’s most respected, highest-selling artists deserves that spotlight.
At first glance, listeners will likely recognize at least half of the track list on the record. To be blunt, Adams may not have been as original as he should have; many of the tracks have been repeatedly covered over the years, and as a result, a covers album that still includes Beatles songs can sometimes feel overdone or contrived. In any case, Adams opens the collection with the Beatles song Any Time At All, and it is quite good. Adams takes the track and gives it a bit more a kick, something the Fab Four did not learn how to do until they broke out of their pop shell halfway through their career. The track is followed by She Knows Me, the original cut of the record. It feels like traditional Adams and it bounces along without a care in the world.
As listeners progress through this new intimate Bryan Adams cover album, he begins to diversify a bit after his initial Beatles offering. The audience is confronted with some masterful covers, ranging from Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay and Chuck Berry’s exceptional Rock and Roll Music. Again, some of these songs feel contrived despite their excellent delivery, likely as a result of Adam’s decision to play some very well-known tunes.
Perhaps the strongest point in the record is the cover of the American standard Never My Love, which Adams pours every ounce of his soul into. It is at points like this in the record that he resigns his rock and roll past for a meaningfully and hauntingly beautiful soft rock sound, even teetering on the edge of early rhythm and blues. Never My Love accentuates the best of this record.
The record ends with God Only Knows, a stunning ballad originally penned by Brian Williams of The Beach Boys. The track harnesses the same innocent, vulnerable spirit that Never My Love does, proving that Adam’s best outings on the record may very well be the softer tracks. While the song provides an apt conclusion to the record, the deluxe version’s five extra songs do an even better job.
When fans enter the deluxe side of the record, they are in for a treat. You’ve Been a Friend to Me kicks it off, a number that is not foreign to Adams fans, given it is his song. This is just a new mix of the song, but it is worthwhile nonetheless. Then listeners are thrown for a musical loop of Eddie Cochran and Kris Kristofferson covers, all of which are executed well. The deluxe tracks climax at Adam’s cover of Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers to Cross, which may be one of the smoothest moments Adams has ever had in the studio. The deluxe tracks could have very been included into the album and benefitted the experience, but they were not. So, listeners should seek out the extra five tracks to achieve that all-encompassing understanding of these sessions.
The production on all of the songs is very calculated; the band sounds stiff at times and follows the original tracks in an eerily close manner. As a result, though, Adams’ voice is pushed to the forefront of the album, allowing listeners to focus on his delivery of the timeless vocals. He did not choose to reinvent the wheel by dreaming up grand revisions to these songs. It is important to remember that he is paying homage to his idols and inspirations, so in this case, imitation is a form of flattery. It comes off as a respectful artistic decision rather than if he had taken excessive creative license with these standards.
Tracks of My Years, Bryan Adams’ new intimate cover album, is very much worth the time of listeners who have enjoyed his previous work or have a soft spot for any of the original versions of these cuts. It is a slick rhythm and blues record more than anything, which is important, because that was the precursor to rock. Not only does the record give insight to the artist’s influences, it also gives a history lesson in rock and roll.
Review By Brett Stewart