Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Album Review: Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Jacksonville City Nights

This was the second of 3 albums released by Ryan Adams in 2005, and it sees him team up with the Cardinals to produce his most country effort yet. The opening 2 tracks A Kiss Before I Go are enough to send all but the most committed country-phile running screaming from the barn. The opener with its lyrics of “one shot, one beer and a kiss before I go” are blended with a somewhat cheesy country melody. Mercifully it’s only 2 minutes long. Second track The End(!) is a country waltz about “cotton fields” and “Jacksonville”. The question is: is he being serious here? It’s dangerously close to pastiche.

Later, Peaceful Valley has the strangulated vocal from his Cold Roses album, while My Heart Is Broken has to be a piss-take, it’s almost too much with its honky-tonk steel guitar and strings. So that’s the dodgy tracks out of the way. I’m happy to say the rest of the album is a distinct improvement, starting with Hard Way To Fall, like a cross between Bob Dylan’s Tonight I’ll Be Staying Her With You and Ryan’s own Answering Bell. It’s still very country, but without any cringe factor.

He collaborates with Norah Jones on the ballad Dear John, which would be one of the more tender songs on the album except for their vocals which are a little over-cooked. The less self-conscious songs are what he does best, tracks like The Hardest Part and Withering Heights are sprightly, rootsy finger-picking songs with the merest hint of country. Special mention for a great piano part on Withering Heights.

Silver Bullets is a beautiful piano and strings ballad like something off his superb Love Is Hell. This is Ryan at his most tender, a voice full of regret singing “cause I can’t see the sun, but I know it’s going away, and I can’t make you love me”.

September is a sparse, brooder like something off the 29 album as is Pa, a dark tale about “Pa drove to town yesterday to pick out her grave”. It’s not all maudlin laments. Trains is a quick-stepping, chugging Johnny Cash like number which suits him quite well and my version has a bonus track Jeane, a sprightly banjo strum, followed by a somewhat unnecessary version of the hoary old chestnut Always On My Mind.

Definitely one of Ryan Adams’ weaker albums and definitely over-long, there are still some songs here worth investigating.