Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
Gifted jerkwad Ryan Adams has so accustomed us to hating him over the years with disappointing records and web rants that when he comes up with a pretty good new album it’s a bit of a shock. Obviously he’s had it in him all along, like a crafty poker player who throws down a winning hand after he suckers in all the chips at the table. Cardinology, the 10th disc (in seven years) in what has seemed a facetiously epic string of releases on Lost Highway Records, is as solid an effort as Adams has ever made.
And we do mean effort. The prolific songwriter is really working it, not just throwing chords and tinkling piano behind something he scribbled on a cocktail napkin. Reportedly the fruit of soul-searching during a stint in rehab, the songs are thoughtful, cohesive and sweetly meshed.
Open-hearted declarations like ‘Go Easy’ draw emotional force both from Adams’s urgent candour and the soulful chime of guitars that reference the usual suspects – The Grateful Dead, Richard Thompson – without sounding too imitative. The hard-candy arena rocker ‘Magick’, with a throwaway chorus worthy of 1980s hair-metallers Ratt, is the token Adams mood-killing track, but for the most part, the former Whiskeytown frontman favours subdued, minimal backdrops that suggest a wordier, less growly Richard Buckner (‘Crossed Out Name’).
Sombre solo piano confession ‘Stop’ may strike fans of the rowdier Adams as far too sad and introspective. But when the recently sober ex-junkie insists, ‘There is a line that must be walked… A weakness must be found if you want it to stop,’ he earns the detour into quiet reflection.
Steve Dollar. Available in stores
A Different Me
Keyshia Cole’s fame runs only four years deep, but it’s already hard to see her as anything other than a heartbreak queen. Known for emotionally raw slow jams like
‘I Should Have Cheated’ and ‘I Remember’, Cole has only fuelled the fire with The Way It Is, the unflinchingly honest reality TV series that centred on her relationship with her ex-addict mother. As with Mary J Blige, pain is at the core of this diva.
A Different Me might promise something else, but it’s not a complete about-face. Despite the foxy cover art and suggestive intro (‘I’d like to introduce a sexier side of me’), this is tame by today’s R&B standards; after ‘Makeover’, a jazzy number with a whiff of Beyoncé in Sasha Fierce mode, Cole returns to more comfortable territory. ‘Thought You Should Know’ and ‘Where This Love Could End Up’ find her sounding as vulnerable as anything on the 2005 release The Way It Is or last year’s Just Like You – they just ply joy and promise, not pain and regret.
The only real missteps are ‘No Other’, which suffers from a brief yet awful rap by Amina Harris, the singer’s cousin, and ‘Playa Cardz Right’, a retread of a track from the posthumous 2006 2Pac album, Pac’s Life. Monica, whose emotionally weathered R&B was a precursor to Cole’s, is a more appealing collaborator; their duet, ‘Trust’, recalls the naive love ballads of the ’90s. At a time when pretension has invaded even commercial R&B (again, Sasha Fierce), this feels like a breath of fresh air.
Jesse Serwer. Available at www.amazon.com