After the fall-out from the botched release of one of Ryan Adams’ finest hours (Love Is Hell), his next move was to form the Cardinals. 2005 saw him release three albums, double album Cold Roses being the first.
It’s a return to country-rock along the lines of Gold. Magnolia Mountain is quite an opener, building from an acoustic strum to a full blown rock anthem with Adams singing lines of regret like “ended up with nothing but scars, the scars became the lessons that we gave to our children after the war”. Sweet Illusion has an effortless guitar part underpinning a strong steel-guitar-tinged song, slightly let down by a very strained vocal. In fact Ryan Adams’ vocals are the Achilles heel of this album, he sounds almost strangled in parts.
He doesn’t get it right on his more hushed vocals, Meadowlake Street’s falsetto doesn’t quite work either. However, it doesn’t ruin the music, which is a kind of muted country-rock ballad which explodes into life three minutes in when the full band make their entrance.
Less successful are rocker Beautiful Sorta which is almost as horrid as its title, and the hokey, cod-country of Cherry Lane and the title track. Dance All Night is harmonica-led country-rock which sounds like Hallelujah or Desire from the unreleased 48 Hours.
Better are the comfortable, effortless ones like the vaguely-MOR (in a good way!) When Will You Come Back Home, Mockingbird and Rosebud. On these songs Adams’ vocals sound huskier and less forced, which suits him a lot better. Fans of the vulnerable piano pieces and shimmering guitars on Love Is Hell will find much to like in How Do You Keep Love Alive and Blossom.
It’s not all mope ‘n’ misery. Let It Ride and If I Am A Stranger are strong uptempo country rockers, while Life Is Beautiful is a gloriously overblown country-rock ballad.
It’s a long double album, stretching to 77 minutes with several missteps along the way, but at its best it stands up with some of Ryan Adams’ better work.