When I heard that Ryan Adams was putting out three albums this year, I rolled my eyes and thought, “this guy needs an editor.” And it’s true, he does need someone to tell him when to stop…but not right now. Jacksonville City Nights is a lovely, stunningly evocative country-tinged album, and it makes me want to thank god that alt-country is finally regaining the popularity and attention it deserves.
Track by track, it’s easy to see why Adams & The Cardinals at one time considered calling the album September; seventy-five percent of these songs could be used as a soundtrack to a golden autumn day, the plinking piano akin to red leaves being carried away in the wind of Adams’s voice. Autumnal in every sense of the word, Jacksonville is filled with a wistful, mature longing. In “The End” Adams sings, “Oh Jacksonville, how you burn in my soul/ how you hold all my dreams captive/Jacksonville, how you play with my mind/Oh my heart goes bad/suffocating on the pines in Jacksonville.” It’s not only the simplistic, heartfelt lyrics that affect the listener, it’s how Adams sings them. His voice is heartbreaking because he isn’t being theatrical – every song seems to have literally battered its way out of his soul, as if he spent the entire recording time listening to and studying Gram Parsons. While he has yet to sing a song that makes me cry (unlike Mr. Parsons, who makes me cry whenever I hear his rendition of “Wild Horses”), he is doing an excellent job of paying homage.
But – and yes, there is always a “but” – Jacksonville City Nights can tend toward the monotonous at times. On and off throughout the album, while Adams is clearly giving it his all, the Cardinals sound as if they’re trying desperately to reign themselves in. It’s clear they can give us a good country rock-out – especially in “Trains” – but more often than not they prefer to shy away from the spotlight. I’m not sure if this is because Adams is threatening to kill anyone who tries to upstage him or if they’re just really meek people, but the Cardinals are a good band; they deserve more attention than they get here.
Quibbles aside, though, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals have made a lovely country album, the way country albums should sound: no pick up trucks, no kicking ass for the U.S. of A. and no creeping suspicions that the man behind the mic is wearing a stars and bars flag for a shirt. This album makes country music accessible to the masses, and my god, it’s a breath of fresh air.
Reviewed by Megan Giddings
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