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One for the Vault 

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals


Lost Highway Records

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At 34 years old, Ryan Adams has achieved a good deal as a musician. From punk roots in a hot North Carolina music scene in the early '90's, he grew into an alt-country songwriter as a founding member of the renowned underground country band Whiskeytown. After just a few critically acclaimed albums (which effectively always means that people who listen to music for a living loved 'em, but the rest of the world didn't really much notice), Whiskeytown ran its course.

Now, ten solo records in, Adams releases Cardinology a wandering quiet record that nods toward his past work. While it evokes a touch of Neil Young, the Dead and Gram Parsons, there is something missing in this release that keeps it from being a tribute to the rambling dusty legacy of something like The Flying Burrito Brothers. Cardinology is more likely to be heard on local adult radio than in a Volkswagen van: think of John Mayer or Jackie Greene, not Nick Drake.

There is cleanness to this release. Many songs flow in a march of predictability and some are unfortunately pretty forgettable. Lyrics like "So turn the radio up loud and get down/let your body move" are either supposed to be incredibly ironic or so cliché that you think they were written by Kool and the Gang. However, some tracks like "Go Easy," "Sink Ships" and "Cobwebs" are iPod worthy and may get you singing along a bit.

"Stop" is a strong and dramatic ballad reflecting on his challenges with drugs. Adams uses the piano to play off a somber story that is very relatable. His struggle with drugs has caused him problems over the years. He now seems to have reconciled issues with himself and lays it all out for us to judge. He seems venerable as he sings: "I know a past where the future is lost." The record ends with thought-provoking questions that leave you empathic, but also happy that you were able to bear witness.


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