RYAN ADAMS & THE CARDINALS "Cold Roses" Lost Highway

An old car plus a cemetery in the background? How moodily hip! Ryan Adams, sitting on hood, with the Cardinals.
An old car plus a cemetery in the background? How moodily hip! Ryan Adams, sitting on hood, with the Cardinals. (By Philip Andelman)
Friday, May 20, 2005

RYAN ADAMS & THE CARDINALS"Cold Roses"Lost Highway

Since he broke up the acclaimed North Carolina alt-country band Whiskeytown in 2000, Ryan Adams has released six solo albums, all of which were interesting and none of which lived up to the great things predicted for the handsome, talented singer. Now he has returned to the comradeship of a working band, forming Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, and giving his four bandmates co-writing credits for the 18 songs on the new two-CD set, "Cold Roses." The results suggest what Whiskeytown might have sounded like if its brand of alt-country had absorbed the influences of Neil Young and the Grateful Dead and had replaced its fiddle with steel guitar.

The steel guitarist is Cindy Cashdollar, formerly of Asleep at the Wheel, and she pulls Adams back into the Americana field, where he first made his reputation. The lead guitarist is J.P. Bowersock, and he adds the dreamy, psychedelic bluegrass licks that echo Jerry Garcia. Dominating the foreground, though, is Adams, his tender, bruised tenor pining over his last lover and yearning for the next one. He wears his romanticism on his sleeve, favoring midtempo melodies full of longing and filling his lyrics with mentions of orange groves, driftwood, angels, mockingbirds, bluebirds, hummingbirds and lightning bugs, as if he were stocking his songs from a beach-town gift shop. There are even four songs where the central metaphor is a rose.

The first single, "Let It Ride," opens with a tantalizing image, "Moving like the fog on the Cumberland River," and a fetching melody. But the image gives way to cliches such as "Let it ride easy down the road" and "Dancing in the endless moonlight," and the melody never builds to a hook. This pattern is repeated throughout the album; a song with a promising start soon lapses into generic competence. The same could be said of Adams's career.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Saturday at the 9:30 club and June 7 at Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. ยท To hear a free Sound Bite from Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8103. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)

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