Ryan Adams – Jacksonville City Nights

Jacksonville City Nights (2005)

B+

1. A Kiss Before I Go 2. The End 3. Hard Way To Fall 4. Dear John 5. The Hardest Part 6. Games 7. Silver Bullets 8. Peaceful Valley 9. September 10. My Heart Is Broken 11. Trains 12. Pa 13. Withering Heights 14. Don’t Fail Me Now

 

This is a good album! And you can trust me on that, because I’m probably the only person you know to have bought seven bottles of wine for and discussed how foggy it was outside with top selling indie rockers the National! After all, I’ve always said that a person’s insight and wisdom can be judged by how many minor celebrities they have superficially interacted with. Which is why the esteemed members of the paparazzi are our nation’s most trusted sages, beloved by everyone in the world.

Jacksonville City Nights finds Ryan teaming up with the Cardinals again just four months after the release of Cold Roses (!) in order to get back to where he once belonged, namely smokin’ California grass in the Southern suburban nowheresville of Jacksonville, North Carolina. His hometown. The place he ran away from when he was 14 cause there weren’t no good punk rock round those parts. But he came full circle on this one, his most down home, countrified effort since the first Whiskeytown album. The band is the same as on Cold Roses, other than Cindy Cashdollar being replaced by the exquisite pedal steel stylings of Jon Graboff. However, unlike the intricately composed, carefully arranged songs on Cold Roses, these tunes, recorded live in the studio, aspire to be nothing more than endearingly sloppy, tossed-off late-60s-style country music. They don’t bother going back to fix bum notes or erasing ambient room noises, cause dag nabbit, George Jones wouldn’t have done it! And he woulda chugged this entire fifth of Jack in under ten minutes too! WHO’S WITH ME?! *Chugs whiskey* *Performs ridiculous, drunken vocal of “Peaceful Valley”*

Indeed, it’s a little known fact that the Jacksonville City Nights sessions were interrupted when Ryan had to get his stomach pumped after chugging an entire fifth of Jack in under ten minutes. Do you think Ryan would sue me for slander if I put that on Wikipedia and suddenly everyone started to believe it? I feel like he would at least write an internet rant about it in which he would call me a pussy or something. I don’t need that kind of ignominy in my life.

The album starts off with the honky tonk barroom should-be classic “A Kiss Before I Go,” which, if you’re as inclined towards old-fashioned twang as I am, will induce euphoria and might have you believing that Ryan has finally made the album that establishes him as the rightful heir to Hank Williams (a title Hank’s biological heir abdicated after revealing himself to be a raving fuckwit with his asinine Obama=Hitler comments). With its zesty pedal steel, plainspoken-yet-emotional rhymes, and what may be Ryan’s best vocal performance ever (perhaps rivaled only by his tortured wailing on the very next track, “The End”), it’s a nearly perfect two-minute country song. Even the 90s alt-country fans who bailed on Ryan after Gold weren’t necessarily asking for something this hardcore Nashvillian, since most of them were punkers at heart, really.

If everything else here was as fun and ragged, JCN could have been a new Honky Tonk Heroes for the 2000s. But while the band certainly keeps up the loose, live feel throughout the proceedings, much of the songwriting is dedicated to slow, maudlin laments. Still country music, but not of the shitkicking variety I prefer. Really only four or five other songs bear any overt resemblance to the style of “A Kiss Before I Go,” and of course these are largely my favorite cuts – particularly the endearingly hokey re-recording of an old Whiskeytown b-side, “My Heart Is Broken,” and the barreling, dumb fun of “Trains” (no, an entire song built around a “trains=thoughts” metaphor is about as far from intellectually profound as Mitch McConnell is from being a young black lesbian, but if that bothers you on its face then you should probably should stick with your Pink Floyd records and avoid country music made to be appreciated by the average Cletus Q. Citizen). I also dig the melodramatic “Hard Way To Fall” even though it’s a rip off of a Bob Dylan song I can’t quite place. I mean, it sounds a whole lot like “I Threw It All Away” too, but I’m 95% sure that verse melody is lifted directly from some other Bob tune from New Morning or something. Anybody know? Help me spot the rip off!

The rest is heavily ballad-driven, but fortunately Ryan managed to come up with a few strong weepers this time around, the only real misfire being the utterly nondescript “September,” which features the most weirdly out of place proggy snyth tone I’ve heard on a slow acoustic song since the Band broke up. Two in particular I feel are worthy of special mention. The first is “Dear John,” a smoky co-written duet with Norah Jones that sounds exactly like a typical Norah Jones song. Yes, such a song actually appeals to me because I like Norah Jones. No, I am not a 53-year old woman. Musical tastes are a mysterious fig, you know? Sorta like how everyone doesn’t seem to realize that dogs are fucking annoying, or how some people think Kirsten Stewart is attractive. If I had to choose between tongue kissing her or a Burmese python, I’d probably have to think about it for a few minutes. Anyway, I also love the deathly quiet, affecting “Pa,” which I imagine as a sort of sequel to Heartbreaker’s classic “In My Time Of Need.” Might the song’s titular character, an elderly country bumpkin, be the same one who narrated “In My Time Of Need,” promising his partner comfort when he passed away? But in “Pa,” Ma dies first and not other way around, and the way Pa grapples with that in the song is exactly how I’d imagine the guy in “In My Time Of Need” reacting to the same situation. Intentional or not, “Pa” is an understated gem.

As for the album as a whole, though it’s spottier than Cold Roses, it’s also more competent and entertaining than anything else Ryan had put out since Heartbreaker, and anything he’s put out since. Viva la Cardinals! Great cover, too.



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