Back in 2005, Ryan Adams was left for dead—artistically and otherwise—by fans and critics who felt that stylistic departures like Rock N Roll and Love Is Hell had squandered the goodwill engendered by his folksy 2000 debut, Heartbreaker. That year, Adams released two records, Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights, that cemented his status among naysayers as a shallow, overly prodigious pastiche artist. But for true believers, the records signaled a turning point as well as the emergence of a great new backing band, The Cardinals. The loose-limbed Cardinals relaxed and humbled Adams, drawing out his natural gifts as a melodicist and vocalist within the safe, friendly confines of a band. Last year's Easy Tiger and the new Cardinology confirm that Adams has found a creative comfort zone in The Cardinals that probably saved his career, if not his life.
Adams wanted to credit the unfortunately titled Cardinology solely to The Cardinals, which is curious considering it's the least Cardinals-like record he's made with the band. If the first half of Cardinology resembles any record in Adams' discography, it's the unfairly maligned '80s arena-rock tribute Rock N Roll, particularly on the addictively mindless radio blaster "Magick" and the U2 knock-offs "Go Easy" and "Cobwebs." Later on, Adams and The Cardinals settle into the sprawling, spaced-out country rock they're known for on the epic "Natural Ghost" and the sweetly poppy "Sink Ships," but if not for the occasional Neal Casal backing vocal or steel-guitar lick from Jon Graboff, Cardinology could easily pass for something from Adams' genre-hopping period.
Not that that's a big thing, necessarily. Even at his slightest—and Cardinology is pretty slight—Adams always turns out likeable ear candy. But Adams already proved he could make a well-behaved pop-rock record with Easy Tiger, and Cardinology feels like another self-consciously consistent, concise effort from one of the few bands that gives jamming a good name.