Cardinology is Ryan Adams’ tenth album in eight years, and he is often (stupidly, in my opinion) criticised for being too prolific. There’s one answer to that – if you don’t want to hear it, don’t buy it. I’m going to see him for the fifth time this month and truly believe that the man can do nothing wrong. And if you disagree I’ll probably want to fight you.

The first three tracks are exactly the sort of songs that you might expect from Ryan and the Cardinals, and perhaps explain the criticism that Cardinology is in fact just Easy Tiger Part II. Haunting and heart-wrenching, these songs show the listener some of the lowest points in one man’s life, his struggles with substance abuse and holding on to a relationship, but also how to turn them around and make everything beautiful and positive again. The musicianship is impeccable; all the parts seems to fit together perfectly, and if you’re lucky enough to have seen one of the live shows you will be reminded of the way in which these five musicians seem to come together as one mind when they play, always managing to anticipate how and when the others are going to do something differently. Last week Ryan, Neal Casal (the Cardinals’ guitarist) and Brad Pemberton (the percussionist) did a live version of ‘Fix it’ on BBC Radio 2, and Brad played on a bin because the studio couldn’t get hold of a snare. The fact that it still sounded beautiful is a testimony to the level of proficiency these guys have reached with their craft. Yes these songs have a similar feel to those on Easy Tiger, but they’re flawless none the less.

Incidentally, on that same radio show the trio also did an acoustic cover of the Foo Fighters’ ‘Times Like These’ which will hopefully make an appearance on the forthcoming tour.

The next track on the album, ‘Magick’, is a throw-back to 2003’s Rock’N’Roll. It’s by far the heaviest and most upbeat number, and the harmonies on the line “What goes around comes around” illustrate how brilliantly Ryan and guitarist Neal Casal’s voices work together. ‘Cobwebs’ is possibly my least favourite song, the lyric “Will you confuse my love for the cobwebs” doesn’t speak to me at all; however everything from here on is back to the outstanding quality people have come to expect from Adams.

‘Crossed-out Name’ starts off with a stripped-down interplay of vocals and acoustic guitar and includes the New York references essential to any Ryan Adams album, and ‘Evergreen’ is a beautifully smooth and swinging number, but for me, ‘Natural Ghost’ is the stand-out track. Contrasting the blackest of thoughts with those of hope and recovery, Ryan manages to encapsulate the most complex of feelings in the simplest of lyrics, with the song coming to a climax on the repetition of the line “You make me feel like a natural ghost”. The track ends with a mellow, Cold Roses-style guitar solo varying on the main melody.

Unlike ‘Nobody Listens to Silence’, the bonus track on last year’s offering, Memory Lane (or Color of Pain, depending on whether you believe the album cover or your iTunes) feels like a perfectly natural continuation of the album, developing the lyrical theme of loneliness which runs throughout. The instruments swell, building the sound up almost imperceptibly the entire length of the track and it ends with the fading away of chiming guitars which Ryan and Neal have perfected in this, the Cardinals’ fourth full-length release.

This is a stunning album and I’m already impatiently awaiting the next. In the meantime, there’s the UK tour in November to be looking forward to, and the release of Adams’ book Infinity Blues, a collection of poetry and short fiction, and in the man’s own words ‘the jewel of my life’s work’, early next year. Cardinology fulfils Ryan’s contract with Lost Highway, the label he has been with since 2000, but in 2009 it’s to release an anthology of his work which will include several new songs. It’s doubtful whether even Ryan himself could say what he’s going do next, although it has been suggested by Luke Lewis, chairman of Lost Highway, that he would be better off going completely independent. Without the constraints of a major-label deal, Adams would be able to put out records until his (and my) heart’s content.


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