Ryan Adams returns to his roots

May 14, 2005, midnight | By Jonah Gold | 15 years, 4 months ago

Longwinded "Cold Roses" shows Adams' skills and faults

Since Ryan Adams left the band Whiskeytown he has traveled through several musical genres in search of a sound that fits. Each CD he released has explored a new avenue of music, whether it was alt-country on "Heartbreaker," overdone alternative rock on "Gold," more conventional rock n' roll on the aptly titled "Rock N' Roll" or melodramatic pop on "Love Is Hell." After an extensive musical journey in which Adams has had his successes ("Heartbreaker") and his misses ("Love Is Hell") many wondered what paths were still left for him to take. Adams though, instead of trying yet another genre, returned to the place where he began, settling in between country and rock, filling the hole left in the genre by the break up of Uncle Tupelo in the early 1990s.

On "Cold Roses," his latest CD, Adams returns to his earliest form, traditional country, with a new band, The Cardinals, to make a sound all his own. Adams seems to be comfortable on this CD, with many of the songs sounding very casual-sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. While many of his other CD's have sounded forced and unnatural, "Cold Roses" succeeds at being an easy listening record, because Adams attempted an album with a sound he knew he could produce.

"Cold Roses" though is no masterpiece. Adams has always been known to publish whatever music he wants, and that becomes even more apparent on this double disc marathon. There are 19 songs on this album and it ends up being around seven or eight too many. Adams, while producing several gems, also turns out a similar number of duds. Many of these songs are his quietest on the album. They seem to meander around a point while never getting there musically or lyrically. The guitar parts are faint and lacking in authenticity; at the same time the lyrics fall short as well, as they are overly simplistic, while spattered with unintelligible metaphors.

On the songs where Adams does succeed such as "Magnolia Mountain," "Cold Roses" and "Let It Ride," he takes advantage of the band behind him to produce a fuller sound, while also creating more thoughtful lyrics. The Cardinals are able to meld the twang of slide guitars with pounding of basses and guitars to make a truly interesting sound. Adams is then able to use these unique backgrounds and fill them with the introspective lyrics that he is capable of. And while these great songs are few and far between, they truly are great, helping to redeem a long-winded album on the verge of total failure.

The one positive aspect about the length of this double disc release is that it provides Adams with the space to cover a variety of topics. Adams is not forced to condense multiple thoughts into one song, allowing for each track to be truly independent of others as they not only stand out musically, but lyrically.

There are several trends on "Cold Roses" that show while Adams may change his sound, he is still the same artist. Adams is still unable to break away from the tender ballads which plagued "Love Is Hell," showing that even as he becomes one of the veterans in contemporary alternative rock he still needs an editor to tell him what songs are actually worthwhile. Adams also shows the flashes of brilliances which defined Whiskeytown and his first release "Heartbreaker," because he is truly at home on this album, connecting both his country and rock roots. Thus Adams produces a satisfactory album by writing some of his best songs to date, while unfortunately filling the rest of "Cold Roses" with underdeveloped fluff.

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