Ryan Adams may simultaneously be the easiest and most difficult rock and roll front man to figure out. On one hand, you have a petulant, moody rock star that has no qualms about drunkenly berating his paying audience. On the other hand, you have the pensive, brilliant songwriter who can produce the gentle beauty found on his new album Cold Roses. It seems like one of them is the proverbial minstrel in face-paint putting on a show, but the question is, which one? Here, Adams is most certainly in his comfort zone, playing a country rock that is irresistible when played by someone who was meant to make this music.

There is something terribly “Grateful Dead”-ish about Cold Roses, something that makes even more sense with the recent news that Adams will become one of Phil Lesh's coveted “friends” during some upcoming shows. It’s not that the music swirls around in psychedelic meanderings or that it shows any of the raucous bluesiness of the early Dead sound. It’s something more subtle – the implicit Americana in the Grateful Dead also fuels this music. The artwork of the album sleeve could easily be the cover for American Beauty, and the repeated rose/floral imagery complete the scene. Cold Roses would make the Garcia/Hunter team proud.

The album is a two-disc set, which subtly recalls the two-set shows made famous by the Dead. Indeed, the first disc is a nice starter - a palate enhancer - setting the stage for the second wave of music, which takes off in exhilarating directions and takes things up a notch, allowing you to easily forget some of the nuggets on disc one. My favorite track is the opening song of the second disc – “Easy Plateau” - a joyful blur of guitars including acoustic, electric, and pedal steel and a complementary vocal from Adams. He has assembled a top-notch country band with Cindy Cashdollar on steel guitars shining throughout. Standouts from the first disc include “Magnolia Mountain” (a title somewhere between Bob Weir and Neil Young, and musically not that far off from that centroid) and “Beautiful Sorta,” which brings a little more rock to the table. Almost the entirety of the second disc is masterful, making Cold Roses one of 2005’s must-haves.

Aaron Stein
JamBase | New York
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[Published on: 7/15/05]

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