Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Review: Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cardinology (* * * *)

Another year, another Ryan Adams album. One of the most prolific singer/songwriters of this generation presents another solid set of songs after last year's Easy Tiger. Adams has spoiled us into expecting consistently great music and he and backing band The Cardinals don't disappoint.

After apparently cleaning up his life and kicking drugs in 2005, Adams continues his messages of hope and of recovery from a broken heart and a battered life. True, the topics are not exceptionally original, but Adams excels at explaining ideas and stories with beautiful simplicity. It's occasionally discouraged; "I wish I could tell you just how I felt/I don't pray I shower and say 'Good night' to myself." but generally the music retains at least a bit of light shining through the gloom. The opener "Born Into A Light" is an encouraging tune, urging us all to "keep the faith" and reminding us that we will "heal inside eventually," which serves as something of a theme for the album.

Cardinology is decidedly less "country" than it's predecessor ("Evergreen" excluded) and more focused on rock with traces of blues and folk. Adams and crew turn up the volume slightly on the first half of the album, especially on "Go Easy," "Fix It," and the harder-edged "Magick." Later, the songs are often more subdued and relaxed, like the wistful "Crossed Out Name" and the slow piano and vocal combination of "Stop." The band sound comfortable and confident, providing elegant touches on Adam's more thoughtful moments and exclamation points on his declarations.

Nothing on Cardinology could be considered a musical revelation, or even a true step forward for Ryan Adams, but the music, the writing, and the execution make for an album that is easy to love*. Here's to hoping for more next year.

Favorite Tracks: "Born Into A Light," "Evergreen," "Let Us Down Easy" "Crossed Out Name"

*In fact, though this review is fairly short, it's taken me several hours to write because I've had to stop, get my guitar, and play/sing several of the songs before being able to focus on the task at hand (really).