Monday, July 7, 2008
Cold Roses - Ryan Adams and the Cardinals (SUMMER 2008)
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
Lost Highway Records.
SCQ Rating: 87%
2005 was a banner year for Ryan Adams, an artist who was as prolific in the studio as he was in short-lived celebrity relationships and creative abortions, namely because he stood by his vow to release three full-length albums within 9 months. That each of these records was well-received as glorious returns to roots-rock after what many considered to be an unwise venture into mope-rock territory certainly fanned the Cardinal flames. The first of these releases, Cold Roses, was unveiled the night I caught his live show and incidentally met him. The club was curiously sweaty for an early May evening but we soldiered through a variety of alt-country ramblings that would only become clear in the months to follow. All the while I listened in to early reviews of Cold Roses from fans in crowd who mythologized its greatness to strangers between songs. Even now, years later, I can feel the warmth and humidity in these songs, from the heavy pace of ‘Magnolia Mountain’ to ‘Meadowlake Street’s long-grass soliloquy.
I’d be shocked if Adams doesn’t feel the same; Cold Roses is chocked full of nature imagery to the point of overkill. In this rural landscape he has painted, every street is named after plants or fruit, any obstacles made of earth and stone, every girl a river or rose. Most every reference is indicative of his own newfound peace, an easy plateau, so to speak, after the tumultuous years of Love is Hell and Rock N Roll that reached climax when he severely broke his wrist during a stage-fall in early 2004. Newly subdued and reflective, ‘How Do You Keep Love Alive’ finds Adams completely at odds with his winking counterpart while ‘When Will You Come Back Home’ is a James Taylor cover waiting to happen (as my father accurately pinned). His serene disposition even touches on ideas of spirituality in ‘Life is Beautiful’, a song that speaks volumes when compared to ‘Fuck the Universe’, written not two years earlier.
The idea of a Ryan Adams double-album rang off as redundant in some circles who deemed much of his records excessive and poorly edited, but Cold Roses proves focused, not only in its Grateful Dead jam-ability sense, but because I can only find two songs I could bear to cut from this eighteen song-cycle. And when tracks like ‘Sweet Illusions’ and ‘Cherry Lane’ aren’t wooing you with their mid-tempo guitar licks, you’re staring in the headlights of ‘Let It Ride’, one of Adams’ best songs ever.
Those who attended that sweltering show and claimed the record’s brilliance were mostly prophets; die-hards who would rather play Adams’ least attractive live renditions than any music beyond his considerate catalogue. Besides, this record is too expansive and intertwined to be judged through one listen in a parked car. They were quiet, still, when grouped around Adams in a parking lot after the show, when two disappointed, RockNRoll-loving show-goers shouted at the drunken songwriter from afar. Truth is, Cold Roses will almost certainly shake loose any new fans who rocked-out to ‘So Alive’; it’s too comfortable in its cowboy boots and 70s vinyl for the cover of Spin. But to fans who’ve lamented for Adams to embrace his roots once more, Cold Roses is beautiful like a long-awaited visit home.