Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Album Review: Cardinology

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals


Lost Highway Records

Buy Cardinology

On Cardinology, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals continue to explore similar musical styles and lyrical themes established on 2007's Easy Tiger album. But where Easy Tiger showcased Adams' strong songwriting and a new sober focus in album continuity and song sequencing, Cardinology seems to rely on the tight musical interplay of the Cardinals as a band with songwriting quality coming in as a secondary thought.

Cardinology begins with the self-help acoustic leanings of "Born Into a Light”. Adams and the Cardinals utilize soaring vocal harmonies and atmospheric pedal steel guitar to give the song a drifty Grateful Dead/country rock vibe. For an album that was hyped to represent the “rock” side of Adams and the Cardinals as they are in a live concert setting, this is a breezy way to begin the album.

First single "Fix It" has a nice late-night-in-the-city vibe with its reggae guitar rhythm and reverb-soaked production until the chorus bursts into a pure Neil Young-style country rock assault, only to be reined back in by the initial reggae riff. At this point, the album begins to pick up steam and it appears the rock side of Adams and the Cardinals is going to be showcased.

"Magick" is a driving rocker that momentarily puts aside Adams usual lyrical fixations of loss, love and introspection for a song about the simple joys of listening to music on the radio (and vinyl). For a talented lyricist, this isn’t his best outing, but the fun factor of the song outweighs the simplicity of the lyrics.

Adams conjurs his best Bono-esque vocal inflection on the 80s inspired rocker “Cobwebs”, which seems to have been depleted of all its energy in comparison to recent live renditions. Again, if this album is supposed to represent the power and energy of the band’s electric live performances, it is tempered by the dry production.

Sadly, the back half of Cardinology slows down considerably, but the lyrical quality and songwriting improves on songs like “Sink Ships” and “Natural Ghost” which see Adams using vivid imagery to paint his emotional portraits rather than the direct, self-help lyrical leanings of earlier cuts like “Go Easy” and “Born Into a Light”.

Cardinology is not a bad album by any means and the die hard fans will no doubt soak it up. If anything, several songs on Cardinology breeze by and feel like sketches that have yet to be fully explored by the band, and if there is a band on the music scene today that has the ability to dive head-first into the musical possibilities of a song, it’s the Cardinals.

The Cardinals as a band have given Adams the musical dexterity and camaraderie to explore the many genres he likes to jump in and out on a whim. Knowing what this group of musicians is capable of live, it’s a shame they didn’t translate that ragged glory and musical muscle to tape. The good news is that with Adams’ prolific songwriting talents, it won’t be long before a new, different album is available for fans to enjoy.

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