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CD Reviews: Review of Jacksonville City Nights by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
Red Rocker Home / CD Reviews Home / Entertainment Channel / Bullz-Eye Home

Click here to buy yourself a copy from Amazon.com   Ryan Adams & The Cardinals: Jacksonville City Nights (Lost Highway 2005)

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When Ryan Adams made a very non-public split with Caitlin Cary and the rest of Whiskeytown in 1999, it evoked the memory of a similar break-up in the same Alt Country class just five years prior. Uncle Tupelo was also at the top of their game as a band when Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar decided they could no longer keep the top on their boiling pot. As a result, each of these guitar-toting troubadours of Bob Dylan University has staked an impressive claim in their relevant countryside with unparalleled solo efforts and ground-breaking collaborations with new-fangled bands. The Cardinals just might be the best thing to ever happen to the scatter-brained, oft deranged Adams.

For his part, Adams has been listening to a lot of Gram Parsons lately. On Jacksonville City Nights, his second of supposedly three 2005 releases (the third is pending a November shelf date), Adams and the well-suited Cardinals roll out the pedal steel and piano, light the incense, and inject the twang into their most hard line, yet solemn, country record yet. While one could argue that these songs don’t necessitate full-band accompaniment -- certainly not stoic solo tracks like “Games” and “September” -- whether sparsely or all at once, Adams uses the band as a key ingredient rather than a safety net. Remember, he had that other band once, then he didn’t, and now he does. It’s unlikely he just brought the Cardinals along as drinking companions.

Jacksonville shoves off to a bouncy enough start with the conventional and safe road song, “A Kiss Before I Go”. “Can’t find the truth in a house of lies / Can’t see tomorrow with yesterday’s eyes / One shot, one beer, and a kiss before I go,” sounds every bit as burning and thoughtful as the best Parsons compositions. “Dear John”, an open letter stained with heartache, finds new pen pal Norah Jones wallowing in Adams’ misery as a barroom piano and slide guitar carry the load. “The hardest part,” he utters on Jacksonville’s brightest three minutes (“The Hardest Part”), “is loving somebody that cares for you.” I submit the hardest part of this venture is wading through the despondent ballads, thick with Adams’ painstaking falsetto, to find the nuggets like “Trains,” a rockabilly ditty that Johnny Cash would have no doubt nailed in the 60s.

Drunken, meditative cries for help dominate Jacksonville City Nights, and whether Adams or his drinking buddies really need a hand is still to be determined, but this record would not have gotten him noticed post-Whiskeytown the way Heartbreaker did. While it’s a decent outing in its own right, Jacksonville feels like a breather, a day off. The thing about the truly great musicians is that their ‘C’ game is usually enough to make the middle of the pack green with envy. You could say Ryan Adams is to the singer/songwriter rank what Tiger Woods is to the PGA Tour. Many critics are frothing at the mouth yet again, and rightfully so where Adams’ sheer talent and passion for his craft are concerned. But Jacksonville City Nights, for all its redemptive strategy, falls shy of the high water mark that’s been established in an uncommon career. 

~Red Rocker 




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