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Adams still has his guitar after all

October 29, 2008|Randy Lewis; Margaret Wappler; August Brown

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals


Lost Highway

** 1/2

Ryan Adams' prodigious songwriting gift has yielded an ever-growing body of work that's better viewed as a series of snapshots of his thoughts and feelings at a given moment than as definitive pronouncements on life as he sees it. On "Cardinology," under his contract for the taste-making Lost Highway label, Adams and his band explore the many faces of loss -- loss of love, of ideals, of life direction.

Despite his famously combative public persona, as an artist he often takes the high road, sending well wishes to those he's left by the wayside ("Go Easy"), or more impressively, to those who've done the same to him. Humility hasn't always been Adams' strong suit, which makes it so touching when he connects with it in "Let Us Down Easy."

The songs are built largely on a potent interplay of ringing electric and steel guitars over lock-tight bass and drums, echoing the classic rock of the Allman Brothers at times, Crazy Horse at others, with occasional swings into the pulsing modern rock of Coldplay and U2. If that makes it sound like Adams and company aren't pushing musical boundaries this time, it's true, but they've settled into a groove that works just fine for now.

-- Randy Lewis


A primer for the newbie indie kids





Much has been made in indie circles about Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox's weird onstage persona, his figure stretched thin by Marfan syndrome, his penchant for muumuu dresses. But there's nothing too strange or new about "Microcastle," the band's third-full length album and the most openly pop of the Atlanta outfit's noisy efforts.

Most of the songs strike a nonchalant beauty and deserve careful, ordered listening, though it's hard to abandon the chillingly lovely "Agoraphobia." One of the album's most deceptively simple tracks, with Cox channeling the heroin surrender of "Transformer"-era Lou Reed, it'll no doubt be picked up any moment by "Gossip Girl" music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas.

"Agoraphobia" gives away to the bracing "Never Stops," which opens into "Little Kids," a shuffling kaleido-pop number that melts into a shoegazer sunset. It's later on, with tracks like "These Hands," when the shimmery guitars and wastoid vocals culled from the My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth handbooks start to sound too familiar.

Still, it's an excellent indie starter kit for the kids just plucking "Loveless" out of the bin.

-- Margaret Wappler


Prettying up a direct proposition

John Legend




Even when soul singer John Legend is proposing one of the traditionally worst ideas in romance -- sleeping with his best friend -- he still makes a pretty convincing argument. "Not just my homegirl, time that I take you home, girl," he sings on the pristine piano-and-808 ballad "Cross the Line."

Legend has all sorts of eyebrow-raising ideas on his third album, "Evolver." There's a smoky dub reggae tune, a sleek break-beat single and a sense of randiness that most fans didn't know Legend had in him. "Evolver" is still grown-man party music though, and it should go a long way toward preserving his urban-boho reputation while breaking free of any NPR&B stasis in his songwriting.

"Green Light" is Legend's first proper club single and should be utterly ubiquitous this winter. There's a double-time drum loop, darting electro-funk synths and a rarely sighted rap cameo from Andre 3000.

Legend's still a most conscientious lover, and his rakish tricks come in the guise of a fine falsetto or piano run. But the urgency of "Evolver" is apparent on "Quickly," where he implores "The globe is warming, my country's warring / kiss me -- like the world is quaking."

If it's truly the end of days, there are probably worse ways to spend it than being seduced by Legend.

-- August Brown


Good and bad of connecting

Snow Patrol

"A Hundred Million Suns"



There aren't many songwriters who capture the vulnerability and humor of being stupid in love as masterfully as Snow Patrol singer and main songwriter Gary Lightbody. "I'm shaken then I'm still / When your eyes meet mine I lose simple skills," he sings in "Set Down Your Glass," a gently unfurling hymn to human connection.

Lightbody's fascination with the insular world of lovers is at the heart of his band's "A Hundred Million Suns." In fact, the opening tracks, "If There's a Rocket Tie Me to It" and "Crack the Shutters," seem deliberately placed as reassuring entry points for those fans who connected in a big way with the heart-on-sleeve emotionalism of 2006's hit "Chasing Cars."

But the frontman takes some steps outside that private world too. "Lifeboats," "The Golden Floor" and "The Planets Bend Between Us" trade modern rock's ADD rhythms for walking tempos that leave more space to ponder the delights and perils of human bonding. In "Please Just Take These Photos From My Hands," Lightbody touches on the danger of getting caught up in imagination, asking, "When all this actual life played out / Where the hell on Earth was I?"

The album's closer, the 16-minute, three-movement "The Lightning Strike," plays with repetitive minimalism and pop accessibility. It charts the stages that love can travel -- fear and risk, comfort and security, liberation and transcendence.

-- Randy Lewis

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