Over a year has passed since Ryan Adams’ last full-length release, 2007’s Easy Tiger. We can almost label that lapse a dry-spell for the prolific artist who is poking Neil Young a challenge for creative output in their respective careers from Whiskeytown/Buffalo Springfield beginnings to a diverse cannon of multi-styled recordings.
With Cardinology, Adams along with his band The Cardinals, continue to deliver the poetic leanings, folksy hooks and diverse influences that has endeared him as one of rock’s most brilliant minds. Although his creative bursts knock dead any of his contemporaries, Cardinology is a very safe album as far as Ryan Adams is concerned. There are no jammy excursions or rebellious tirades that made most of his work from the prior five years so hit or miss. No matter how tired some of the melodies on Cardinology can grow, there is something deeper probing at Adams, as exemplified in the opening track “Born Into A Light,” where he drops hopeful phrases – “ be patient, keep the faith.” The artist has entered his post-drug, post-bad relationship era, where he is examining his experiences with a reflective sensitivity, as on “Cobwebs,” where he repeatedly asks his lover, “will you confuse my love for the cobwebs?”
The reflective country western “Les Us Down Easy,” settles comfortably next to the acoustic vulnerable “Crossed Out Name,” where Adams contemplates living alone. But despite this being packaged as a full on Cardinals effort, the rocking “Magick” is the closet the artist leans to his “Rock N Roll” album, letting Cardinology evolve as a lyrics collection. Some of the creative nuances include the fragile chorus in “Natural Ghost,” the positive motions on the sparse “Evergreen” to the piano solitude of “Stop,” which enters fragile David Gray territory. Cardinology isn’t the strongest Ryan Adams release to date, not even close, but it flows as a cohesive song cycle, perhaps a step forward for an artist who has recently struggled with those inner demons.