Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
2.5 stars out of 5
Ryan Adams, does the phrase “quality over quantity” mean anything to you?
The alt-country rocker has been one of indie rock’s most prolific singer/songwriters, but has sadly only provided listeners with a few duds since his earlier triumphs. “Cardinology,” his latest effort with his backing band, the Cardinals, does not immediately fall into either extreme, though it does little to stand out from Adams’ whopping discography.
The best way to describe the music is typical Ryan Adams. That means there’s some steel guitar, some come-ons and plenty of hearts-on-sleeves. Things start off promisingly, with Adams’ weary vocal harmonies making “Born into a Light” a quick winner. But sadly, “Cardinology” presses on with precious few ideas Adams hasn’t already worn thin.
This record quickly runs out of steam against even last year’s efforts, “Easy Tiger” and “Follow the Lights.” That’s not to say Adams has lost relevance or appeal, but it certainly seems like he needs to take a break for, say, a year.
In the meantime, it wouldn’t be a bad time to discover his back catalog.
Key songs: “Born into a Light,” “Magick”
4.5 stars out of 5
With her second solo album, Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis follows in the steps of her 2006 album, “Rabbit Fur Coat,” creating soulful songs with a traditional country sound.
The country influence in Lewis’ songs is present not so much in the twang of guitars, but in the conservative nature of the songwriting. She keeps many of her songs spare and low-key, allowing the listener to focus on the lyrics. From simple ballads to epic story-driven songs, Lewis shows range as a songwriter.
Not all of the songs on “Acid Tongue” stay quiet. Most of the songs past the album’s halfway point move with a great country-rock energy, providing a nice contrast to the acoustic numbers.
Lewis also receives help from some fine guest appearances, including a duet with Elvis Costello on “Carpetbaggers” and backing vocals from M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel of She & Him throughout.
When it all comes together, “Acid Tongue” is an impressive record. The calm tracks grow on the listener with their swelling emotion, while the uptempo songs are catchy and memorable.
Key Tracks: “Carpetbaggers,” “Godspeed,” “Jack Killed Mom”