Ryan Adams – Cold Roses

Cold Roses (2005)

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1. Magnolia Mountain 2. Sweet Illusions 3. Meadowlake Street 4. When Will You Come Back Home 5. Beautiful Sorta 6. Now That You’re Gone 7. Cherry Lane 8. Mockingbird 9. How Do You Keep Love Alive 10. Easy Plateau 11. Let It Ride 12. Rosebud 13. Cold Roses 14. If I Am A Stranger 15. Dance All Night 16. Blossom 17. Life Is Beautiful 18. Friends

 

After kicking the daily speedball regimen that he apparently stuck to during the entire Love Is Hell/Rock N Roll period (man, no wonder all that stuff sucked. Ryan seemed to always want to be an archetypal debaucherous Keith Richards character going back to his Whiskeytown days, but you don’t actually have to, like, do all those drugs to pull it off. I made for a very convincing Keef on Halloween when I was 14 and I was totally sober!), Ryan suddenly remembered how to write good songs again. Upon experiencing this epiphany, he assembled a new band called the Cardinals, consisting of former Pinkheart Brad Pemberton on drums (yay! No more of that plodding, heavy-handed drumming that weighed down both Rock N Roll and Love Is Hell!), his latest gal pal Catherine Popper on bass, the badassesly-named Cindy Cashdollar on pedal steel, and J.P. Bowersock on guitar. The band would go through several personnel changes in later years and by the time they stopped working together in 2009, Ryan and Pemberton would be the only original members left. But despite the revolving door, the Cardinals were, throughout their existence, billed as a collaborative effort – the album is credited to “Ryan Adams & the Cardinals,” and the band is collectively credited with writing the music to every song on Cold Roses. Similar to the role Wings played in Paul McCartney’s career, the Cardinals allowed Ryan to be just another dude in a band again. And, like with Wings, the professed musical democracy of the Cardinals is more façade than reality – ultimately, in practice, they’re just another one of Ryan’s backing groups.

However, that’s not to discount the fact that their presence reinvigorated Ryan significantly, or that they have their own distinct sound. And that sound, I shall now inform you, is autumnal country rock infused with a hint of Grateful Dead jamminess. Sure, they would change their sound on every subsequent album they were involved in, further proving that Ryan is calling the shots, but for now, it’s a very distinct flavor. Pastoral is another critic-y descriptor I would go with to describe this album, but unlike some critics I might name (rhymes with “Bephen Lhomas Girlywhine”) I will actually explain that this means acoustic-based tunes played with elastic rhythms and lyrics so often focused on nature (as you can probably tell from song titles like “Magnolia Mountain,” “Meadowlake Street,” “Cherry Lane,” “Blossom,” and others) that the CD case practically smells of mulch and pig saliva.

The potentially, but ultimately not unfortunate news is that Cold Roses is another goddamned double album. However, although it’s actually longer than both Gold or Love Is Hell, it also far more cohesive as a whole piece than either. Both those records were just blatant abuses of the 80-minute CD time allowance, and proof positive of the old cliché that just because you can pack twice as much music onto an album as you could in the 70s doesn’t mean you should. Cold Roses, on the other hand, was designed like it was a double album produced in the 70s – sequenced with ebb and flow in mind. And, even though at 76 minutes total it actually could have fit on one CD, it was packaged as two separate nine-song discs. Of course, the constraints of these physical mediums are petty and laughable to my generation, the entirety of whom hasn’t actually used a CD since we ripped our whole collections onto iTunes in like 7th grade. Incidentally, why haven’t more bands taken advantage of the limitlessness of digital music? It’s 2013, and frankly I would have figured bands would have started evolving from the archaic circumscriptions of the album form by now. If mp3s existed in the 70s, Yes would have created a song called “I Shat My Pants: An Exposition In Sixty-Eight Parts” that would take five months to listen to and would culminate with Rick Wakeman literally relieving himself in perfect synchronicity on his Yamaha. I kind of wish this existed.

So let’s talk about why these songs are good, and why they’re good in a different way that virtually any other Ryan Adams product that came before it. Exactly two songs on here are blatantly reminiscent of his previous work: “When Will You Come Back Home” could have easily fit on Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac (and boy, is that nice to hear!), and the rollicking, harmonica-laden “Dance All Night” sounds like an intimate cousin of “Angelina” from 48 Hours. The rest is pretty fresh sounding. No, I’m not particularly enamored with the Dead-flavored elements here. If you’re gonna do guitar jams, I prefer ‘em tight and arranged like Television rather than loose and ragged like That Band of Smelly Hippies With the Guy Who Has a Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Named After Him. But not to worry, there are no 20-minute jams or aimless solos here, and actually hearing a spiraling psych rock riff in the middle of otherwise typically arranged country rock, or hearing the band stretch out a song for just an extra minute or so with some nice rambling guitar interplay is pretty cool here and there. Sure, some spots drag on a little longer than they need to, but the two jammiest, most Dead-like songs on here, disc openers “Magnolia Mountain” and “Easy Plateau,” are also clearly two of the best.

Still, this wonderfully organic, rootsy sound would be nowhere without some of the most creative compositions of Ryan’s career. If you’ve made it this far into his output, you’re probably aware that most of his songs start one way and pretty much continue on that path for the duration of the tune. Such is not the case with all of Cold Roses! “Meadowlake Street” and “Mockingbird” suddenly transform from hushed acoustic ruminations into noisy rock anthems, while the electric choogler “Beautiful Sorta” and country shitkicker “Cherry Lane” become lilting pedal steel laments. Other songs require no such shifts, like the gorgeous finger-picker “Rosebud” and the rock solid, driving country rockers “Let It Ride” and “If I Am A Stranger,” which even has a CATCHY GUITAR HOOK. Which, if you’ve been paying attention to my previous reviews, are harder to find coming from Ryan than the butterfly tattoo on John McCain’s ass. (It’s there, I promise).

OK, sure, like just about any Ryan Adams album, chop a couple of the more generic ballads off of this thing and you’d really have something. Similar to how if you removed Ted Nugent’s oral cavity, thus preventing him from being able to speak, you would create a superior version of Ted Nugent. But we can’t have everything. So in the world as it exists, I’ll take Cold Roses over “Cat Scratch Fever” featuring Mike Huckabee any day.

(Yeah, that actually happened).



One Comment

  1. Emily wrote:

    Well, this explains a lot. My mandolin teacher LOVED the Grateful Dead. He was in a Grateful Dead cover band, in fact. The only Ryan Adams song he ever taught me? Magnolia Mountain.


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