The prolific author, Oasis fan and Courtney Love lover Ryan Adams is rarely far from our thoughts. The fact that the man is so open and free about his goings on, it can be hard to remember the talent that rests on the other side of this or that squabble. Ryan has skills, yes, but is his tenth album Cardinology more of Easy Tiger’s maybe too easy MOR, or did he amp and rough it up some? Well, Boston, you’ll recognize a few Cardinology tracks right off the bat: “Sink Ships,” very pretty “Cobwebs,” “Fix It,” and others he’s performed on recent tours are here. (“Fix It,” the first Cardinology single is elsewhere, too.) You’ll also get another listen to “Crossed Out Name.” Of course, context is important.
Super fans (or astute Internet users) likely also heard demos for “Born Into A Light,” “Like Yesterday,” “Magick,” and “Evergreen” when Ryan was upping them to Youtube. And others when Ryan posted them to his blog. The pre-Cardinology Ryan’s press corps promised the record would be “concise,” “focused,” and “unadorned.” All true. It’s no Cold Roses. That said, there’s enough dust (and some minor rambles), saving it from the aforementioned Easy-like polish. You get a number of different Adams angles: The gentle down-homey “Like Yesterday” (and its soulful backup harmonies), the twangy and gentle “Evergreen” (somehow reminding us of Leon Redbone, of all people), the slinkier “Fix It” (and its almost U2 moments — ditto “Go Easy” on the Bono thing), etc.
Even though “Magick” tells us to turn the radio up (and “Go Easy” has a stronger Adams’ bellow in its power ballad moments) on the whole it’s a quieter affair. Actually, maybe that’s just because the best songs are the hushed ones — even when they have some uplift like “Cobwebs” — and they end up sticking in the mind. Cardinology also closes with its most spare moment, “Stop,” five minutes of Closing Time piano plus strings and Ryan’s voice in a fragile, higher register. It’s a kind of lament filled with religious imagery and moving to worries about the future, a visit to an ad hoc psychiatrist (i.e. the singer/songwriter and Cardinologist Ryan Adams), and a repeated whisper to “stop” (the last word on the record).
These dozen songs aren’t necessarily mind-blowing, but they offer a solid collection with a few standouts (“Cobwebs,” especially). It should be enough to satisfy longtime fans and, as mentioned back at the beginning, show folks more familiar with Ryan’s hijinx than his music that he’s worth our attention.
Cardinology is out 10/28 via Lost Highway. Ryan’s book Infinity Blues is out 3/16/09.