Ryan Adams & The Cardinals: Cardinology

By: Dennis Cook

Things are really coming together for The Cardinals. Billed as Ryan Adams' backing band, what Cardinology (released October 28 on Lost Highway) reveals is a five-piece of overlapping pleasures and focused, no bullshit purpose, a rock 'n' roll band in the classic gatefold sleeve, hard touring model. The great comfort level of their stirring live performances has finally found some footing in the studio, and while perhaps not as instantly knock-you-back on your heels as Cold Roses or Jacksonville City Nights, there's a succinctness and clarity to Cardinology that distills their more rangy concert persona into one very fine rock album.

Need proof? Put on "Magick," simply one of the nastiest, catchiest rockers Adams has ever penned but bettered in many ways by the spiky electric guitar and vocal foil provided by Neal Casal (who also provides the booklet's boffo interior photography – dude has a seriously great eye for capturing musicians). A tremendously gifted singer-songwriter in his own right, Casal permeates the proceedings, oozing into all the right cracks and providing beautiful counterpoint to Adams' six-string playing and increasingly together singing. Adams really soars with a '50s Sinatra-esque oomph and dexterity here, particularly on "Born Into A Light" and "Crossed Out Name." There's just a lot of honey in his delivery and phrasing now, perhaps an embrace of his natural instrument or merely increased facility in accessing all the parts within his range. Something has occurred and Adams, ably aided by Casal throughout, sings his ass off on Cardinology.

A refining process has occurred with the compositions on Cardinology, where nothing tops six minutes and most cuts hover around four. While Adams is better able to fill longer ruminations than most out there, it's exciting and engaging to find these tightly packaged gems. The energy of the quick recording session (most captured in just a few days according to drummer Brad Pemberton) infuses tunes that hang their hats on often simple but very effective lines ("Let us down easy, Lord," "Will you confuse my love for the cobwebs?") The poetry here extends past the words to the music, which ever-dovetails with the lyrics, accented and commented on in non-verbal ways, music lived and lingered over with real care.

The apex of The Cardinals' togetherness on the new album may be "Natural Ghost," which finds Jon Graboff's pedal steel and Chris Feinstein's bass providing the glistening muscle that moves along a unified musical body, each participant giving themselves to a larger vision, a greater outcome than any single player could achieve informed by great understanding of the guys plugging away next to them. The mood on "Natural Ghost" is the sort of rough n' tumble contemporary gospel vibe The Cardinals often stir up live, asking rhetoricals that need asking and giving us the celestial sway to answer even if we don't exactly want to. They carry this feeling into "Sink Ships," which hangs on the darkly hopeful line, "The war is over, and I am wading in the sinking ships." Things brighten on the strummy, pop tinged "Evergreen," which seems like a love letter to Mother Earth as much as any person. "Like Yesterday" is gorgeous, dangling melancholy, and closer "Stop" is simply put one of the most moving, spot-on songs about human addiction ever. The stillness, sadness and longing of the piece simply can't be fully wrangled into a review. If you've ever knowingly done yourself great wrong because you were just too weak to stop yourself, well, this one is gonna crawl inside you, pulled along by Graboff's softly orchestral steel and Adams' perfectly underplayed vocal delivery.

Cardinology is a grower, likely to sneak up on you after a half dozen spins or so but once it's jumped in your bed you won't be anxious to kick it out. Even more than last year's Easy Tiger, this album points to the togetherness and huge potential of this band. Chemistry like this doesn't come along every day and it's heartening to see them evolving such a substantive and satisfying creative relationship.

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[Published on: 10/29/08]

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Chaloupka starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/29/2008 09:02AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Need to get this today!

RothburyWithCheese starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/29/2008 09:22AM
Show -6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
acomma Wed 10/29/2008 09:54AM
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"Magick" might be one of Adams' worst songs. He has much more lyrical potential than he exhibits in that song. Cmon Ryan, I know you can do better than repeating "What goes around comes around" five or six times. Other than that, this album is decent, and will likely grow on me as the author suggests it might. It is certainly no "Cold Roses," but is rather just like every other Adams record: distinctly different.

jcatan starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/29/2008 09:55AM
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Great review. Dennis-Man, I had said a while back that your review style reminds me of David Fricke. So to add to that- you remind me of him in that your love of ALL types of genres and music in general shines thru. Keep up the good work because there are few critics out there that have the talent as most seem the need to find some fault. I love it!


curtbraski starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/29/2008 10:15AM
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This review is pretty spot on. "Magick" is not one of the best songs he has ever penned, but I think it is a nice complement to the album. The whole record is damn good. It's definitely won't knock you down on first listen, but after a few spins you begin hearing a kind of "magick." Sink Ships and Natural Ghost are also and even the single Fix-It has really grown on me. If even anything the most exciting thing about this record is what the Cardinals are developing into as a live act and just overall classic rock band. Check out any of their recent soundboards on archive for proof. They sound phenomenal

wetchabs starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/29/2008 11:16AM
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Spot on review. If your a Ryan Adams fan and haven't bought this yet, get in your car, drive to the store and pick it up. NOW! Simply put, it's his best work since heartbreaker. Focused, tight, laid back this one will go down as a classic.

tomthumb86 starstarstar Wed 10/29/2008 03:58PM
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I'm really rather surprised at how positive the reviews for this album have been so far. I love Ryan Adams and will see this band live whenever they come around, but to suppose that this album is even half as remarkable as Heartbreaker, Gold, Cold Roses or Jacksonville seems crazy to me. This album has Starbuck writen all over it. It is watered down, candy music compared to his previous efforts. There are tunes that actually remind me of Bon Jovi. This makes my stomach turn. Maybe I'm being too hard. I will give it a few more listens, but for an artist capable of such open and honest music that fills the songs on records like Heartbreaker, Gold and Jacksonville City Nights, Cardinology seems vastly impersonal and almost a deliberate attempt on Adam's part to blend in and become a minor part of a band that wouldn't exist without a songwriter so gifted. But that's just one man's opinion.

futhepharmer starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/29/2008 04:42PM
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^disagree totally. Cardinology is imediately one of the best albums of the year. Ryan has truly come into his own with this record. He took over a year on it and it shows.

The live shows on this tour are nothing short of phenominal. You heard it here...Ryan and the Cardinals will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come!

fishbone1 starstarstar Wed 10/29/2008 05:52PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Can any of you guys who loved this review of this album (which I have yet to hear) explain this sentence? "Something has occurred and Adams, ably aided by Casal throughout, sings his ass off on Cardinology." I'm not just taking it out of context, either, because now that I've isolated it from its paragraph, it's actually making (slightly) more sense now.

rainydaywomen420 starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/29/2008 09:17PM
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i absolutely love ryan adams, love the new album, although magick is a joke of a song and it saddens me ryan would pen something like that, but otherwise he continues to be brilliant. I was floored by his live show recently and the cardinals are to ryan adams what crazy horse was to neil young, damn good.

jackiesoup starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/30/2008 08:43AM
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Cardinals last night on Letterman..awesome review btw


cmkauf Thu 10/30/2008 05:00PM
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Ryan is simply a great talent-

and the Cardinals are a fantastic band

I hope everyone enjoys him NOW & in his prime rather than looking back 10-15 years from now and wishing you had seen him live but didn't get the chance

mmmFriedFrogLegs starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/31/2008 04:10AM
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best album of 2008. period.

cmkauf Sat 11/1/2008 03:53PM
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thanks for the link jackie

jackiesoup starstarstarstarstar Sat 11/1/2008 05:44PM
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My pleasure cmkauf^


breadloaf Mon 11/3/2008 07:36AM
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I should preface my comment by stating for the record that I am a big fan of Ryan and the Cards. To be frank, I am utterly disappointed with this recording and agree with TomThumb. Dennis, I am not finding the "honey in his delivery" you speak of- not even close. I am hearing that razor sharp whine that Ryan's electric work trends toward- and way too much repetition of lyric lines. I will certainly give it more spins with an open mind, but I do not see it as comparing favorably with Easy Tiger, much less Cold Roses and the sheer aching beauty and expert songcraft of Jacksonville. For me, the more Ryan stays in the acoustic realm, the more I appreciate the songs. I understand that part of my frustration with this recording is that I hold Ryan & the Cards in such high esteem that I was expecting some real gems. I still consider him a massive talent. Thanks for the review, Dennis.

futhepharmer Thu 11/6/2008 04:59PM
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good to see ya frogleggs. I agree with you. best of 2008 fo sho.


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