The ever prolific Ryan Adams has another record for us, the fourth with his band The Cardinals and his tenth since Heartbreaker back in 2000. Apart from 2006, Adams has released one album per year since the turn of the century and in fact released three in 2005 (Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights and 29) and he also produced Willie Nelson’s Songbird with backing from the Cardinals in 2006.
Since apparently overcoming substance abuse two years ago one could argue that his music has lacked the previous emotional depth or sincerity that was a feature of earlier records. Easy Tiger was a solid but not spectacular release and Cardinology follows that template in structure and style. The songs are made up of heart wrenching love lost ballads (Stop), mid tempo country shuffles (Evergreen) and angular melodic rockers (Fix It) but the overarching feeling is one of Ryan on remote control. Not to say that is a bad thing. On auto pilot he still stands head and shoulders above the plethora of classic americana singer songwriters currently peddling their wares.
The one track that stands out from the rest of the record is Stop which sonically sits next to the Love is Hell album(s). Sparse and intimate, it features vocals half whispered and an almost lone piano with hints of percussion and strings wafting through. Lyrically there are references to drug addiction and salvation and a reaching out to others in the same boat. The conviction of Ryan’s confessional style can often be questioned but in this case it rings true with verses such as… “I know a place where the future is denied, I know a hand that twitches inside, for some of us the glass is filled with lights, but if the honey makes you sick, honey, there is a line that must be walked, If you wanna make it stop, then stop”.
At the other end of the spectrum there should be special mention given to the cod rocking travesty that is Magick. Was this a tongue in cheek inclusion? I suppose time will tell when we see if it is included in live sets. It sounds like it was thrown together in mere minutes with its MOR power chords and chorus of … “So turn the radio on, so turn the radio up, so turn the radio up loud and get down, let your body move let your body sway, listen to the music play , It’s magick, It’s magick”. Truly horrible and one to skip.
One of the album’s successes is Ryan’s melodic ability. Via his guitar lines and vocals he still consistently delivers melodies that pull at the heart strings, that lift you up or calm you down like on the lilting Evergreen. He knows when to harmonise and when to let the voice lay bare. It really is one of his true talents behind all of the tantrums and dubious decisions (Rock n Roll, messy web releases) and it is what keeps the fans buying his records and sticking with him on his journey through the American songbook.
Cardinology is not his best, it probably will end up sitting alongside Easy Tiger, beneath the holy triumvirate of 2005 and with Heartbreaker still holding firm as his best.
Here is Cobwebs performed on Letterman as a web exclusive: