By David Werther.
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Cardinology (Lost Highway, 2008).
Ryan Adams, singer and songwriter for the Cardinals, is nothing if not prolific. Rolling Stone reports that in 2006 he posted enough songs on his website to fill 11 albums. Since then, Adams and the Cardinals have released: Easy Tiger; Follow the Lights; and Cardinology. A book of verse, Infinity Blues, will be out in a month.
Much of Adams’ prodigious songwriting, since dropping out of high school at the beginning of his sophomore year, had been fueled by heroin, cocaine, and alcohol. Not so with Cardinology. Adams has been sober since May 2006.
There are echoes of a recovering addict in Cardinology. A reference to conversation in a church basement about a line that must be walked, “Stop,” sounds like an excerpt from an AA meeting, as do the recognitions of weakness in “Let Us Down Easy,” and powerlessness in “Fix It.”
So far as a higher power goes, when he sings about keeping the faith, he does not have God in mind. He does not pray, “Crossed Out Name,” though he does tell God jokes, “Let Us Down Easy.” As Adams tells it in “Stop,” his sickness is “one ancient and cross” that “no crucifix can ever fix.”
If there is a fix worthy of faith, for Adams it is music itself. In “Natural Ghost,” “keeping the faith” is aligned with “moving in time to the music.” And, in a wonderful hard rocker, music is the “Magick,” the prescription for “all the power hungry clowns.” It sounds silly, but there is so much energy, faith, and fun in this song, that one is ready to reach for the volume control in response to Adams’ call to turn it up.
Cardinology is filled with beautiful rock melodies and well written lines, e.g., “Don’t confuse my love with the cobwebs,” “Cobwebs.” It is more evidence that Ryan Adams belongs in the top tier of songwriters. There is magic in his music, and wisdom in his hope for a relationship with roots, “more like trees and less like the clouds,” “Evergreen.”