CD Review: Ryan Adams & The Cardinals Cold Roses

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Because I am a big Ryan Adams fan, I was initially concerned about writing a review of his newest double CD Cold Roses. I didn't want to be biased about the album, but the fact of the matter is I like everything he does. My girlfriend finally helped me put it all into perspective by telling me that a review is an opinion so just write what you think and don't worry about it so much! Thanks for giving me a kick in the pants when I need it hon!

Adams is best known as the front man for his previous alt country band Whiskeytown. The buzz that surrounded Cold Roses before its release was that he went back to his country roots and that Whiskeytown fans would be pleased. While there is definitely a country influence to the CD, it is unfair to compare it to Whiskeytown. The music and the songwriting are much more complex.

Many of Adams's influences can be heard throughout Cold Roses including Gram Parsons, The Grateful Dead, and the Rolling Stones to name a few, but he makes the songs unmistakably his because of his moving and often heartbreaking songwriting. Because there are so many songs with muliple influences, the CD collectively isn't an easy listen. Eighteen songs is a lot of music to take in, but after a few listens everything falls into place and has a flow and consistency that hasn't been heard since his first solo effort Heartbreaker.

What makes this album different from Adams other efforts? To start, there seems to be a purposeful lack of structure to many of the songs. It is as if the lyrics were written first and Adams and his band, The Cardinals, wrapped music around them after the fact, to accent and complement rather than to dominate the songs. This gives the CD a spontaneous and almost live feel. The music is also heavy with imagery such as ("Hold me when I rattle like a hummingbird humming") from Magnolia Mountain and my personal favorite ("My head ain't filled with nothing but cats and rocking chairs") from Easy Plateau which give the lyrics a poetic feel that could stand alone without the music. The continuity of the album comes from its subject matter. All of the songs are about love lost and the confusion that follows. Adams has apparently had his heart broken many times and is haunted by the unanswerable question of every break up, "Why?"

Cold Roses has something in it for all who have come to like Ryan Adams, because a little of all his previous efforts can be heard in Cold Roses. Adams makes depression beautiful with the Roy Orbinsonesque "Sweet Illusions" which combines a weepy guitar hook intertwined with lap steel guitar and a voice that strains with emotion when he belts out ("I ain't got nothing but love for you now/Love for you I can't use"). He bares his soul when he asks the question ("What does it mean to be so sad/when someone you love is supposed to make you happy") in one of his most moving songs, "How do you keep love alive" and shows his anguish in "Easy Plateau" by simply stating the root of his relationship woes ("How can I hold on to you if I can't hold on to me."). The radio friendly "Let It Ride" is a perfect choice for the first single because it is familiar to his fans, yet catchy and upbeat for first time listeners. It won't get airplay in Cape Girardeau, but has been getting a lot of spins in major markets which should help to turn on new fans.

Whether you are reeling in sorrow with Adams or simply happy that you aren't in the same situation, there is no denying that his music will make you feel. Adams is one of the best singer/songwriters out there today with unlimited potential and Cold Roses is a welcome addition to his collection that doesn't disappoint. Adams music is always changing and while this is my favorite album, first time listeners might want to cut their teeth on Whiskeytown's Strangers Almanac which put him on the map as an alt. country pioneer or the more contemporary Ryan Adam's New York, which is his most popular album to date. At the very least go to his website at ryan-adams.com and listen to some of Cold Roses first if you are considering buying it. All of the songs are posted in their entirety and the website is one of the more creative websites I have come across in some time.

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