Erupting from the split of Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams emerged on the scene in 2000 with his prolific debut, Heartbreaker. Although critically acclaimed, Heartbreaker fell under the radar of the major masses. It was billed as “alternative country,” but in reality it is just an amazing record of solid songs. It’s also the album that put Ryan on the map.
Constant touring helped to build his fan base, and with his backing band, the Cardinals, firmly in place, Ryan started to catch on and develop a larger following. 2001 saw the release of Gold, a harder hitting, rocker style record, different from its predecessor. Gold had a heavier sound and garnered Ryan some popularity with the song New York getting a lot of airplay and attention after the 9/11 attacks. Gold would go on to be his best selling record to date.
Over the next 6 years, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals would release no fewer than 7 discs, much to the complaints of their record company. They feared saturation in the marketplace from an artist that didn’t sell millions of copies. Ryan just wanted his fans to have access to music as he turned it out. An argument he would point out many nights in concert.
His onstage antics are well documented, and Adams has been accused of being childish, selfish, and outrageous, sometimes all on the same night. There were nights when the house system did not work too well and Ryan had a fit on stage, going off on the theater he was playing in, the state he was playing in, and the inability of anything to work properly. He angrily left the stage without returning, after playing only seven songs. Fans were understandably upset by this decision.
There are also several incidents when Ryan will tell song-requesting fans how he feels about them. In his drug induced days, he would freak out, telling the fans screaming for a particular number that now he definitely would not play that song because they wouldn’t shut up about it. Other nights, he would politely request that they just enjoy the show that he has put together for them and to please stop making requests.
Recently clean and sober, Ryan found his work passion again and released one of his greatest records in Easy Tiger. This was followed with an extensive tour of America, entertaining fans all over the country. In 2008, he and the Cardinals released Cardinology and started another extensive tour.
It’s hard to describe exactly what type of music Ryan Adams and the Cardinals perform. It’s a blend between hard rock, country, and modern alternative, with a dash of punk and a smattering of blues. Ryan’s lyrics are hauntingly poetic. His ability to craft a song is the stuff of genius. The guitar work on each album is stellar and the arrangements are well blended, allowing each instrument to stand out, but never taking away from the vocals or the guitar, which are the centerpiece of the songs.
Ryan’s voice is silky smooth and sucks the listener in. It’s a voice that is desperate, kind, playful, loving, angered, and scared, depending on the mood of the song. He can sing high, low, and all the in-betweens and he can sing them all well. It’s distinctive and enjoyable, the voice of one who’s honed his skills over the years.
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals are a band certainly worthy of a listen or three. Not sure where to start? I recommend Gold, Easy Tiger, or Cold Roses to get you started. Any of those discs are worth the purchase price and then some.
Here’s some Lettermen appearances:
Let It Ride
Comments are open. Feel free to post some.