Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, ‘Cardinology’ (Lost Highway)
Anyone who’s followed Ryan Adams’ career during the decade since he left Whiskeytown might’ve wondered if last year’s Easy Tiger was a fluke — an all- too-rare instance of Adams wrangling his creative wanderlust long enough to craft a consistently compelling full-length. Yet this fine follow-up, recorded at the same New York studio with the same hearty backing group, begs an unlikely question: could alt country’s premier wild child finally be settling down?
If maturity means never having to say, “Hey, look what I can do!” then it sure seems that way. Like Tiger, Cardinology is long on midtempo country-rock shuffles that sound comfortable with their own familiarity; Adams isn’t straining to reinvent the Great Art of American Songwriting (see Gold or Cold Roses), and that allows you to focus on what he and the cardinals are actually playing, as opposed to what they’re thinking about playing.
More often than not, it’s something with a bit of casual profundity: In “Cobwebs,” Adams looks for reassurance in the sturdy midtown Manhattan skyline, while “Go Easy” and “Fix It” — the latter riding a killer soul groove-describe life after a painful breakup without descending into emo-folk bathos. “Some of us are strong / The rest of us are weak,” he sings in the album’s prettiest cut, “Let Us Down Easy.” And some of us seem to be getting stronger.