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Ryan Adams - Cold Roses

Post 1

The Psycho Chicken -- self respect intact

I was bored, so I wrote about the last album I bought. I then wondered what I could do with it and thought I'd stick it here.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cold Roses

To produce what one music journalist absurdly described as "his first work with a band since going solo" Ryan Adams has teamed up with The Cardinals to bring us 'Cold Roses', a double album presented in a beautiful embossed blue sleeve apparently designed to look somewhere between leather and denim; which conjures up what the record's going to sound like before you've even played track one.

To a certain degree it's an accurate impression. The cover makes no attempt to hide that this is a package of pure Americana, but it also hints at a tone of nostalgia, and a level of class and quality that has been lacking from a lot of the last few years of the alt.country boom. This is Ryan Adams, one of the most prolific artists of the movement, but if you ask me, that's only becuase he puts every damn note he writes on a record. His monster seller 'Gold', led by the tragically portentious 'New York', had at least six too many tracks on it; even Adams himself reportedly thinks that 'Rock n Roll' shouldn't have been released at all, and quite why 'Love is Hell' ended up as two EPs is beyond me. Given that, I'm thinking "a double album - there'd better be some quality control in evidence here."

Firstly a good sign, in that neither disc exceeds 40 minutes, and that's including the bonus track on disc two, which means that this whole album would have fitted on to a single CD. The reason for the split then should be either conceptual or stylistic, assuming it's not just a cynical marketing exercise. For reasons that will become clear, I'll deal first with disc 2.

Fans of Whiskeytown and Adams' previous solo output will find much to like here, but equally they'll find music that they have a sneaky suspicion they already own. It swaggers from safe-if-sound country rock ('Dance All Night') to tracks which could have been taken from a second rate latter-day Springsteen album ('Friends'). There is the occaisional moment of joy, like 'If I am a Stranger' which jumps along at a foot-tapping pace and would brighten up a live set nicely, either acoustically or as it appears here as an electric number. Sadly though ultimately the second disc fails to satisfy and culminates in the dull as ditchwater and completely surplus to requirements bonus track 'Tonight'.

The reason for the two-disc arrangement here though is a subtle stylistic split, and the real magic is on disc one. Here the tone is more hushed and acoustic. It's also less tightly produced, and Adams breaks free from the standard song format that country rock generally sticks to, and achieves greater emotional expression and better performances as a result.

The standout of the set here is 'Meadowlake Street', which is absolutely stunning. Its practically inaudible beginning reveals the finest vocal performance of the album by a country mile (if you'll pardon the expression) over a deceptively simple acoustic guitar line. When the rest of the band kick in about half way through you're so engrossed in the song that it sounds like a live band hitting a crescendo. The only thing wrong with this track is that it's positioned at track 3 and the rest of the disc doesn't quite reach those heights again. This is a climactic track, which belongs towards the end of a record, not on side one of a double record set.

Disc one is full of emotional moments, but again, with way too much padding. It closes on a high note, though, with 'How Do You Keep Love Alive' coming close to matching the brilliance of 'Meadowlake Street', which probably makes disc two all the more of a disappointment.

It's not that any of this album is bad; it's just that a lot of it's fairly uninspiring. Where it's good, though, it's very good, and whilst the stylistic split doesn't really pay off it's a nice idea which makes for two distinctly different products for the price of one. Sadly, I think someone was trying to hard to achieve that and was happy to do so at the expense of quality and balance - they could look to Josh Rouse's recent 'Nashville' for a lesson in a consistently high quality, if short, album of pure americana - not a note is out of place and the record flows beautifully.

In fact, its structure (or lack thereof) is my main bugbear with this record, not the music. I'd be tempted to take these 19 tracks and relegate perhaps four of them to b-sides and another two or three to the song recycling plant, then make a lovely single disc from the rest. It would be built entirely around that lynchpin track 'Meadowlake Street', which is undoubtedly worth the price of the record alone. In this day of CD burners I may in fact do just that to get a third listening experience to add to this package.

smiley - chick

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