Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Follow the Lights

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
Follow the Lights

(Lost Highway)

First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2007, Volume 14, #12

Written by John Metzger

Wed December 5, 2007, 07:00 AM CST


Ryan Adams is so ridiculously prolific that, sometimes, it is difficult to tell where one project ends and the next one begins, or, for that matter, where he’s going and where he’s been. His placeholders take the form of full-length endeavors as often as his albums exude the air of stop-gap recordings. Yet, for all of the strange angles from which he has approached his art, there’s also a circularity to his methodology that keeps everything in line, providing his career with an overriding sense of continuity.

Adams’ latest effort Follow the Lights is, at first glance, his most blatant attempt to bide time between outings. Composed of two songs that were penned specifically for use in ABC’s October Road, four cuts that were reworked and re-recorded, and a cover of Alice in Chains’ Down in a Hole, the collection ought to be a hodgepodge, odds-and-sods set that holds appeal only for his most diehard fans. Building upon the mature outlook that he demonstrated on this past summer’s Easy Tiger, however, Adams instead has defied expectations and crafted a worthy complement to his recent forays.

A huge part of Adams’ latest string of successes undoubtedly is the chemistry that he has developed with his backing band The Cardinals. Where he once forced Whiskeytown to bend everything to his will, often to the point of breaking, he now is allowing The Cardinals to stand on more even ground than its on-again, off-again billing otherwise would suggest. The group — which features pedal steel player Jon Graboff, guitarist Neal Casal, drummer Brad Pemberton, bass player Chris Feinstein, and pianist Jamie Candiloro — seems to know precisely where his songs need to go, and Adams wisely is trusting his fellow musicians to frame his material as they see fit.

From the Neil Young-ian aura of the title track to the Grateful Dead-meets-alt-country flavoring of My Love for You Is Real to the gentler framework he gives to This Is It, the entirety of Follow the Lights unfolds like a cross between Easy Tiger and Cold Roses. In that sense, the seven-song, 30-minute collection doesn’t find Adams moving forward. Rather, it highlights how carefully he is refining his craft. Most notable of all, his focus has grown increasingly sharp, and much as its title suggests, Follow the Lights plays like a rumination upon love, loss, and regret. For all of the sorrows that he invokes, the endeavor exudes a warm and comforting ambience, and perhaps mirroring Adams’ own journey of self-discovery, its overarching message is about finding redemption and returning home. While he might have lost the ability to surprise his fans, his work also has become less erratic. Instead of shedding personas in order to run away from everything that makes him who he is, Adams sounds as if he’s finally taken comfort in just being himself. starstarstar ½

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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2007 The Music Box