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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Artist: Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
Label: Lost Highway Records
Length: 2 discs (disc 1 – 9/39:39; disc 2 – 9/36:29)
The ever prolific Ryan Adams recorded with a full band for the first time in five years on _Cold Roses_. And with all due respect to Whiskeytown, or any other combination of Adams' sidemen, this may be his best group of players to date. The Cardinals (J.P. Bowerstock, Brad Pemberton, Cindy Cashdollar, and Catherine Popper) have a synergy with Adams' lyrics that elevates this album to a very high level. If Adams' well known lack of focus and maturity causes him to explore other ventures, he should work out an arrangement a la Neil Young and Crazy Horse that allows him to periodically work and record with this band. (The only difference being that the Cardinals could record an album that would stand on its own, while Crazy Horse's "solo" works have tanked miserably.)
Cold Roses unabashedly tips its hat to the music of the South, and falls into that category of the alt. Country/Americana/folk/No Depression/adult alternative music that refuses to be classified. "Magnolia Mountain" could well be the single of the year, a Grateful Dead-tinged tune that will have you pushing "repeat" again and again. "Meadowlake Street" expands Adams' range, demonstrating a falsetto that somehow works, staying in tune the entire time. "Sweet Illusions" is a Neil Young meets Roy Orbison odyssey, while "How Do You Keep Love Alive" rings of a quiet Springsteen.
On the second (and not as satisfying) disc, there are a few songs that rise above the others. "Life is Beautiful" is audio bliss, while "Dance All Night" serves a nice counterpart. "Easy Plateau" revisits Orbison territory, and "Blossom" lets Adams roam between Springsteen and Mike Peters vocally.
There are a few questions that should be raised: since all of these songs would have fit on one disc, why the two EP setup? Should Adams have cut a few songs and made this one full length album? What will customers be charged as a result of having two discs? Does any of this matter, since most of the songs are exceptional? Is Cold Roses the result of a record label that cannot release Adams' material quickly enough to suit his tastes?
Regardless of the answers to those questions, one thing is certain. Cold Roses is a darned good album, bordering on special. Adams and The Cardinals are a great mix.
Brian A. Smith