Ryan Adams & The Cardinals :: Cardinology

ryan_adams_cardinals.jpgConventional wisdom of late posits that Adams’ fashioning of the Cardinals as his constant band has been a godsend in terms of focusing him. But at what cost? Last year’s Easy Tiger was remarkably consistent but also remarkably boring. So does Cardinology continue that trend? Thankfully, the answer is no…with a few caveats.

First, one thing that has been missing in Cardinals-era Adams is any one song that ever jumps out at you. His albums are homogeneous to a fault, eschewing standout tracks for album consistency. Of his Cardinals output the only album to have any stellar stand-outs was Cold Roses, and the band, as it existed on that record, practically imploded upon impact. A good album naturally has songs that serve as stand-outs and some that serve as continuations of the album, or ‘filler,’ or whatever you want to call them.

Cardinology manages to find Adams pulling together the strengths of his cumulative work and creating a few stand-outs in the process. Don’t expect another “Come Pick Me Up” or anything. But opener “Born into a Light” finds Adams doing an (unintentional) uncanny Willie Nelson in his vocals and creates a tight, concise opening track. The style of this album is closest in nature to Cold Roses, but it finds its roots elsewhere. The modified r&b/soul styling of some of Adams’ Whiskeytown work (“Fix It,” “Like Yesterday”), the memorable choruses and populist rock of Gold (“Go Easy”) and even the maudlin glimmering of Love is Hell / 29 (“Stop”).

The album is consistent – I honestly don’t think there’s a bum lot in the bunch. Even the slightly goofy and ham-handed “Magick” has its quirky charm and is a fantastic example of a ‘filler’ song that isn’t annoying or poorly placed. It’s an album that is a slow grower – but yet is enticing enough to invite immediate returns. words/ j. neas

MP3: Ryan Adams :: Go Easy
Amazon: Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Cardinology

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14 thoughts on “Ryan Adams & The Cardinals :: Cardinology

  1. Easy Tiger was probably in my top 10 last year, and Goodnight Rose was definitely one of my favorite songs of the year. If that isn’t a stand out I don’t know what is.

  2. Easy Tiger was an extremely homogeneous, but solid effort. It was also his best since Cold Roses. Looking at the tracklist I can understand the want for a standout track, but every track on that album, save maybe Halloweenhead (goofy, cheezy a la Magick on this effort) is consistently good.

    With Cardinology, there is without a doubt some more diverse tracks, but with that come some of the duds that I think Easy Tiger didn’t have. Tracks like Natural Ghost and Like Yesterday simply fall flat like most of the second half of the record does. (save for the brief jam on Like Yesterday). I think the strength of this album lies in Adams’ r&b tones that are sometimes gospel-like, especially in the hooks of Born Into a Light, Go Easy, and Let Us Down Easy. Magick is a better rocker than Halloweenhead, though equally thoughtless and cheesy.

    Overall, I don’t think Cardinology is a better album than Easy Tiger, but it does have some intriguing tracks, Let Us Down Easy being my personal favorite.

  3. This album to me is really a 60/40 album. It stars out very strong, but fizzles out. Not really in a sense of music, but in a sense that I think Ryan might be losing touch on some of his metaphor making and lyrics in general. As far as his output is concerned I feel like people are continuously overlooking “Jacksonville City Nights.” Through and through its a solid country record with many stand out tracks in my mind. “Easy Tiger” I think is better played live than on record. In the live setting you see those songs evolve into something more. Example: “Halloween Head,” “Off Broadway,” and “I Taught Myself How to Grow Old.” And I believe the same will happen with “Cardinology.” The not so strong cuts on this album will either evolve into something better or fade away. This album doesn’t diminish the prolific greatness of Ryan Adams, but only adds to it.

  4. I agree that this album is homogeneous, but Easy Tiger had some standout tracks. I remember when “Two” was released and it was a bona fide single that got me really worked up for the album to be released.

    I don’t think there’s any excuse for Magick. That song is just horrible. Remove that, and you have a solid listen and a good album.

  5. I just don’t hear it… it’s consistent, but so very bland. Magick is a standout, and it’s a fun, upbeat track – unfortunately I don’t think it was meant to be one of the better songs on the album when they were recording it… but it is.

  6. It’s undoubtedly fascinating, and amusing, that an artist as divisive as Adams – and by this I mean people who just plain like/dislike him – can also inspire that kind of division in opinion amongst the people who share a like for him. I, personally, just never got into Easy Tiger. Which is not to say it’s a bad record, but that in comparison to the rest of his oeuvre it’s a bit stiff and I have found myself listening to it exactly none in the last year.

    If this helps gauge whether you agree with me or not, here are my personal favorite non-Whiskeytown Adams records: Heartbreaker, Love is Hell, Cold Roses, 29.

  7. Picked up Cardinology yesterday so still feeling it out, but it seems like a first cousin to Easy Tiger, which is kinda a good thing. I thought it was a solid album, but after seeing him live for the first time (Auckland, NZ – Aug 2007) I thought hell, why can’t we get something like that on a record!
    I had read a while back that Adams and company were looking to do an album that captured the live, jammy experience, so I was a little bummed to see Cardinology largely full of the sort of safe, solid slow burners that he seems averse to playing live (gig I saw on the Easy Tiger tour only featured one ET track).
    As far as standout tracks off recent albums, I think ‘I Taught Myself…’ and ‘Strawberry Wine’ are head and shoulders above anything else from their respective lps.

  8. Alright, if I had to nail it all down, I’d say Cardinology is cohesive and homogenous the same way Easy Tiger was. I would also say that Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights had the same elements of cohesiveness in their style, but to a different degree, and much different style. The one difference I find between Cardinology and those other three, however, is that the first three sounded one way on the album, but were *freaking amazing* live. While I don’t think Cardinology is “freaking amazing,” I do think it’s their first album to capture a lot of the style and emotion and sound that the band features in a live setting. From that perspective, I think it’s the most indicative of the “Cardinals sound.”

  9. i saw them on halloween at the apollo theater and they were nothing short of mind bending. they played every song off “cardinology” and it prompted to me to swing by the record shop and get it the next day. it’s not my favorite of his (that would be either cold roses or jacksonville city nights) but it’s one of my favorites of 2008.

  10. I saw The Cardinals play Cambridge, England last week and the 7 Cardinology tracks sounded great live (surprisingly Magick wasn’t played)- but were different from the album versions – the band sounded quite like U2 circa ‘Vertigo’! The highlights were tracks from Cold Roses and Easy Tiger – in particular ‘Goodnight Rose’ which got the Grateful Dead ’10 minute guitar jam’ treatment and went down really well with the old hippies in the audience!

  11. Appreciate where most of the comments are coming from, but my critical objectivity is generally suspended for Mr. Adams – I enjoy Cardinology as a collection by an extremely talented artist/group and don’t feel the need to qualify it against any of his previous output. This album is a creeper and if any of the above ‘so-so effort’ comments were posted in the first week of listening, may I suggest putting it on the shelf and coming back in a month?

    Even the songs I’m not wild about have moments that save them from the skip button in most cases – on this CD and overall.

    No stand-out tracks? ‘Cobwebs’ although too short for my liking, is sublime. ‘Crossed Out Name’ – beautiful and sad – what’s not to like?

    Also, to the person commenting that Jacksonville City Nights is ‘overlooked’. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Solid, solid stuff!

    Disclaimer: I like Ryan Adams’ music very much.

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