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Double Dose of Country Charm

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals: Cold Roses - released: 5.3 on Lost Highway

<i>Cold Roses</i>, the latest and longest record to date from the notoriously prolific Ryan Adams, is far from perfect. It isn't terribly original sounding, nor is it a love-it-or-hate-it departure like 2003's <i>Rock N Roll</i>. He's got a brand new band, The Cardinals, but don't expect a full band version of the alt. country masterpiece <i>Heartbreaker</i> or a glossy rock record like his breakout, <i>Gold</i>. What Cold Roses is, then, is a fucking terrific album from a really talented songwriter just doing his thing.

The 18 tracks over 2 discs are a mix of rootsy country, delicate folk, and loose Grateful Deadish rock, with a classical (as in Leonard Cohen) songwriting feel. The Cardinals, all accomplished studio and touring musicians in their own right, anchor the sound in authenticity and consistency, allowing Ryan more room to develop and move the songs, and…well, just be Ryan Adams without sounding contrived or forced -- which his last album, as good as some of the songs on Love is Hell were, suffered heavily from. Quite the opposite this time around, <i>Cold Roses</i> feels honest and effortless.

The album is at its best when the band gets playful, as on the old school rocker "Beautiful Sorta" or the sappy country romp "Cherry Lane." Ryan's raspy, frog-falsetto vocal inflections and noodley guitar lines ("Easy Plateau") ooze with charm and sincerity. The wear-your-emotions-on-your-sleeve heartbreak ballad, "How Do You Keep Love Alive?" is more endearing than sad, but "Now That Your Gone", with its beautiful wandering melody, is up there with his best ballads.

Some will complain that the double album is unwarranted: too long and could have been pruned to one stellar disc. What these people miss is that the length, though sometimes meandering, is at the spirit of <i>Cold Roses</i>. The vibe is not about wowing the listener with every song or creating a masterpiece, but rather about throwing it all to the wall and seeing what sticks; not over-dubbing every sloppy guitar riff, just making up some good songs and recording them. He's got two more full-length albums set to surface before the 2006 -- I'm already on board.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars