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Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Cold Roses Print E-mail
Tuesday, 03 May 2005

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals

Cold Roses
format: 16-bit Stereo CD
label: Lost Highway Records
release year: 2005
performance: 8
sound 7
reviewed by: John Sutton-Smith

Image One of country’s bright young hopes, Ryan Adams continues to amaze and confuse with his combination of romance and car crash – he’s the Paul Westerberg of modern country. Adams can write classic country songs achingly perfect and still seem at times lazy and unfocused, but either way Adams is an artist and songwriter who you cannot ignore.

A little like Elvis Costello in the midst of his most creative blitz, Adams has music seemingly tumbling out of him and, to satisfy the prodigious output, he releases more albums than a label, even the impressive Lost Highway, can properly exploit. It’s been a year since the prolific alt-country-rocker put out his last highly regarded pair of albums – this time he opts to release a double album set all at once.

Using a new collection of sidemen Adams calls the Cardinals, Cold Roses is a mostly rock effort, the first of his three new albums scheduled for this year. Unashamedly influenced by the Gram Parsons/Workingman’s Dead era emo-country-rock, the album stretches out in a relaxed fashion, like a hammock swinging between strings and emotion and lengthy jam-like stretches of anthemic rock. Filled with tune and twang, Cold Roses once again displays Adams’ always affecting sense of melody and pathos. Cold Roses is not a masterpiece, not as strong as Heartbreaker or Gold, but it's a cut above anything else that’s out there. "Let It Ride" has a breezy intensity reminiscent of the Eagles' "Take It Easy," only darker and less clean. The first album is generally softer, more quiet and intimate while the second is more rock and roll, providing the two sides of Ryan in perfect complement.

The dichotomy of Ryan is fairly contained in one song, "Sweet Illusions," all soft and sweet at the start, until suddenly the vocal gains intensity and the music takes hold. Likewise, the music on "When Will You Come Back Home" bears the lilting Gram Parsons/Burrito Brothers sound, until the lyrics kick in and Ryan sings the haunting title line. And “Rosebud” on disc two gives off an air of early James Taylor, with guitar notes enamoring the plea of his vocal.

The annoying side of Adams is an old journalist’s habit – burying the lead, and as frustrating as it may be to casual listeners, it must be more annoying to his record company. He puts the softer songs up front instead of the rockers; he literally submerges the hook or melodic riff in favor of lyrics. But at the end of the day, his honesty is what gives these songs their power – he wears his heart on his sleeve, the one he wipes his nose with.

Not every song on Cold Roses is a complete winner; they never are on a Ryan Adams record, but there are always a couple of gems that will soothe, give insight, and sometimes makes us cry. Adams’ songs at their best make you want to hear it some more, play it again, empathize with the man, the same way you want to get to know a person more.

The songs ain’t perfect, but there’s a smile or a look or a sense of connection that makes you want to investigate further. You might never be lovers, but you’ll be lifelong friends.

The sound of the record is, as Neil Young calls it, plywood digital. And that’s just as it should be. Produced by Tom Shick and mixed by him along with Adams, the album has an easy unforced sense to it, warm and natural like the songs, while retaining a crisp and clear sound and fidelity. Less is more for Ryan in the studio and Shick obviously respects that.

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