Ryan Adams lives and breathes music; that much is clear based on his prodigious output. In 2005 he released 3 albums with his band The Cardinals but recently Adams has slowed down. He’s been going through some major life changes including a move to the West Village, he’s been sober for a couple of years and he’s become a vegetarian. There’s a spiritual lining to his most recent releases and most importantly, he’s learning the fine art of editing.
With Cardinology Adams is placing an emphasis on this album being the product of a band but, good as his fellow musicians are, Adams is the voice and father of these songs (he’s taken to identifying himself in the writing credits as David Ryan Adams). Opening with “Born Into A Light” Adams establishes rebirth and faith as major factors in the themes that ripple through the collective 12 songs. “Go Easy,” the second track, plays on the theme of forgiveness and in Adams’ case it could easily be read as relieving himself of lingering, detrimental guilt. “Fix It” is a classic Adams heart-broken lament, one of those “I can’t give up on this love” ballads that he’s offered up so many times before.
The Cardinals are a tight band that hit all the right notes and tempos whether Adams is immersing them in deep alt country twang or hurling them headlong into rock and roll. Brad Pemberton handles drums and percussion, Chris Feinstein the bass duties, Jon Graboff takes charge on pedal steel, and Neal Casal takes on electric and acoustic guitar as well as the occasional piano and organ line. Adams is proficient on guitars and keyboards as well. “Magick” gives the band something to dig in and kick up the dust to. It’s a grinding rocker with lyrics that compare a relationship to nuclear war. I hope that’s an over-the-top metaphor but with Adams history of love affairs you can never be sure. But that song is an exception to the rule on an album defined by mid-tempo compositions that mix country, pop, and the occasional blues influences.
Adams has a natural talent for melody and it’s on display here. So is his penchant for introspection and melancholy. The songs are tightly produced and the arrangements show off the precision of the band. It’s a good thing that Adams took a year to produce this album. You won’t find excess of any type on this release. The songs are developed and thoughtful. But pretty as they are Ryan Adams still comes across as a complex and confused artist and man. Recently, writing in his blog, Adams suggested that he’s not sure who would want to be his partner (check out “Sink Ships”). I’m sure he presents challenges to those who love him but he certainly knows how to glean these situations for inspiration for his craft. I hope someday to hear what he sounds like when he’s gloriously happy.