December 1, 2018
As the year dwindles away and the cold sets in hearts and minds tend to turn back to warmer days. Right in line with the gradual retreat to a cozy, blanket-laden couch or welcoming fireplace, Ross Adams has released his sophomore work just in time for the season.
Songs from an Ancient Terrace is the latest effort from the Charlotte-based singer and, while things have been quiet on the front for Adams in the three years since the release of his debut record, 1952, it’s not been time wasted. The nine tracks that make up Songs from an Ancient Terrace are wrought with as much power as they are with pain, detailing Adams’ personal hardships, a rediscovery of his passions, and a triumph of the present self over a harrowed past. They’re all strung together with a modernized country sound and a true North Carolinian folksy twang.
Adams’ devotion to lyricism is abundantly clear in his relatively cryptic title for the album, which he explains is simpler than it may appear: “It’s more about singing to an empty terrace or blindly to a window, hoping the person you wrote that song about is listening somewhere inside there.”
Adams noted several characters from his own past, all of which could be the person standing behind the windowed terrace, most notably his ex-fiancée in “Embers Falling,” his father in “Raleightown,” or the late mainstay of Charlotte’s music scene, Rodney Lanier in the eponymous “Rodney’s Song.” Regardless of to whom these songs are dedicated, it’s impossible to gloss over Adams’ intense lyrical exposition of his relationships with people who helped to bring this record to life and how those lyrics reflect Adams’ ability to translate his anguish into art with stunning personality.
As if songs that close to the chest weren’t enough to wrench the heart, Adams’ own personal story of perseverance is the real rush of gold in the riverbed. After the release of 1952 Adams traveled the East Coast on tour, but found little success in his ventures, fueling a growing frustration with his work, his label, and his purpose. Years later, Adams can now look back on that time and trace how it led him to where he is now.
“It was honestly tough. Little money and not very many people at shows. It’ll make you lose faith and question if you’re doing the right thing,” he explained. “So, with pressure to make money, my crippling anxiety and insecurities, I just went back to work and took a back seat to it, just pissed off at the whole concept.”
Adams spent a great deal of time writhing in these self-manifested constraints before finally “hitting rock bottom” as he says, leading him to the understanding that would eventually become Songs from an Ancient Terrace.
“I realized music is going to get me through all this crap. It truly makes me happy and putting all your emotions and grief into songs is what is going to save my life. I realized I didn’t hate music, I hated myself for not doing what makes me happy. Not having any confidence or desire to love myself. That’s when I started taking a different stance on life and music, more confidence and different approaches to my own self-worth.”
This record is the product of that awareness through and through. Combined with the truths of his interpersonal past as well as his stories from the road, Adams has made this collection of songs an emotional force to be reckoned with, on par with releases from powerhouse contemporaries such as Noah Gundersen, Phoebe Bridgers, and Jason Isbell.
With such moving lyrics, it’d be difficult for any musician to craft a soundscape equivalent in strength, and that seems to be the divergent point of Songs from an Ancient Terrace. While there are certainly noteworthy points of musicianship, such as the combination of horns and strings on “The Answers For” to complement the Bob Dylan-influenced vocals that Adams belts with, there are also moments when the music falls flat alongside his voice, almost spoiling the experience that Adams is crafting. The music is strongly rooted in folk, country and blues, featuring plenty of slide guitar and other bastions of the genres, but when it comes to standing out from the crowd, the sounds of Songs from an Ancient Terrace leaves the listener wanting for more. Overall, it appears that this record is more of a lyrical exploration than a musical one, and now that Adams has alleviated the weight of the past from his chest, perhaps his future works will ensure a sharper focus on honing his musical expression in tune with that of his lyrics.
Ross Adams is a rare breed in the current musical landscape, with few companions in the spotlight who can claim such honest and hard-fought lyricism as he has demonstrated with this latest work. Coming off of hiatus is a revealing tribulation for even the highest caliber of musician and, while Songs from an Ancient Terrace is only the first step of many to come, it’s definitely a proper one for Adams as he continues to pursue his passions in a new light, full of beginnings to come.