Cardinology marks Ryan Adams tenth studio album in all, and his third (credited) release with The Cardinals. It is very much the musical successor to 2007’s solo record ‘Easy Tiger’, and 2006’s ‘Cold Roses’, each of which had similarly strong Grateful Dead influences. Its sound is far removed from his debut classic ‘Heartbreaker’ or his only big seller, ‘Gold’. So if that’s all you know, you’re way behind.
Over the years Adams’s music has gone in different directions depending on his mental state, drug addictions, romances and label demands. ‘Easy Tiger’ was his first “clean” record, and despite a mental breakdown and encroaching deafness since then, there is for the first time a markedly positive lyrical theme on ‘Cardinology’. This is due largely to the support of The Cardinals, whose membership is drawn from his close friends. There are, however, the traditional songs of heartbreak and rejection at which Adams so excels on the second half of the album, of which ‘Cobwebs’ and ‘Crossed Out Name’ stand out. Yet this is very much an album written to be played live, and Adams’ new focus on writing ‘jams’ for his band rather than acoustic tales of introspection is typified by the frenetic ‘Magick’. The best tracks are probably found on the first half, with the brilliant opener ‘Born Into A Light’, ‘Go Easy’ and lead single ‘Fix It’ finding the Adams/Casal engine at the peak of their powers. At around forty minutes it is short for a Ryan Adams album, and, apart from the weak ‘Evergreen’, there is not a bad song on the album. A solid and at times brilliant return.