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Reviews

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
Cardinology Tom Milway , December 9th, 2008 14:23

Yes, yes. Prolific, recovering addict, nine albums and five EPs in seven years… [insert predictable introduction here]. Ryan Adams has occasionally been accused of being mentally unstable due to an unnatural and naive willingness to publicly air his unedited thoughts. While doing so has not always proven to be the best of ideas for Adams, it does regularly afford us a vision into his now-infamously scattered creative process via a plethora of blogs, videos and musings. Musically however, he appears to have his art down to a science. On this, his tenth studio album in nine years and a career spanning ‘anthology’ purportedly on its way in 2009, his big-hook country rock sound sits on record like a comfortable, composed and confident adult, happy within his skin for the very first time after many different ‘adolescent’ phases (some of which, for Adams, were infamously stronger than others). The cause of this is evidently down to the support over the last three years of backing band The Cardinals who, whether you believe it to be a good or bad thing, have influenced Adams by focusing his output.

However, Cardinology makes it abundantly clear that Adams as an individual remains anything but the comfortable, composed and confident adult. In fact the lyrics that lie beneath the wall of guitars exhibit an even more confessional, vulnerable and on occasion whiney (see ‘Let Us Down Easy’) side to his character than a lot of his early work ever contained. Try standout ‘Cobwebs' for example, a palatially inductive moment to getting below the skin of just what Cardinology as an album is all about. His message of heartbreak and loneliness: "Sometimes I feel like the static in the attic... Will you confuse my love for the cobwebs?" hits like cold that bites the skin. Or try ‘Crossed Out Name’, a classically anxious and claustrophobic chiming solo track that conjures visions of Adams sat at home on a Saturday night in his NY apartment regretfully questioning in the same manner Morrissey once did: "I wish I could tell you just how I felt, I don't pray I just shower and say good night to myself. When I close my eyes, I feel like a page with a crossed out name". Closer ‘Stop' is a reverberated piano ballad (reminiscent of his track 'Sylvia Path'), the subject of which is evidently rooted in his past drug-abuse and recent consequent rehabilitation.

But across much of Cardinology the brimming sensitivity is hidden behind a big arena rock sound. The soulful, groove-led intro of the polished and mourning 'Fix It', collides into an upending crescendo of sparkling mounds of guitar and exhibits the effectiveness of The Cardinals as a backing force.

Cardinology is also front-loaded with the same variety of big-hook, heavy hitters as Easy Tiger. However, it doesn’t contain the same fragmented feel of the latter (with the exception of the alt-rock-tinged number ‘Magick’), which went from honky-tonk country to bluegrass and back to rock again in as many songs. Cardinology seems far more sure of itself, but at the same time as if its treading past ground once more. During its second-half/second-wind the album finds a more relaxed thread. ‘Natural Ghost’, which makes full use of John Graboff’s expert pedal steel, is classic Adams & The Cardinals material. ‘Evergreen’ sways gently to drummer Brad Pemberton’s brushes like a breeze filtering through wilting, fatigued branches.

Adams currently sits as an accomplished songwriter, musician and live performer with an extremely talented and well-rehearsed backing band of experts. Based upon this showing, not to mention his recent live shows, there is no material evidence that Adams isn't producing some of his most captivating and polished work to date. But the question is, is it varied and exciting enough?

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