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Follow the Lights Channels Pain into Melody

Observer Scene | Friday, March 14, 2008

The ever-prolific Ryan Adams’ most recent offering, “Follow the Lights,” is a remarkably tight and well-crafted EP of new songs, covering fresh interpretations of older songs from the singer’s extensive catalog. Brimming with an emotionally mature sense of expression, the EP offers a mellow perspective on recent events in Adams’ life and his current mindset, which seems to be more subdued and reflective than ever before.

The opening track, “Follow the Lights,” is rumored to have been written in only twenty minutes while Ryan sat on the set of the ABC drama series “October Road.”

The show asked Adam’s band, the Cardinals, to write a song to fit the mood of the show. The track that emerged from the jam session was an upbeat tune, which is remarkable considering the morose and depressing nature inherent in the spirit of most Adams’ tunes.

Written as a letter to a lost lover or dear friend, the Cardinals sing, “Follow the lights that line the streets connecting telephones / Follow the lights from house to house and they will lead you home.” Adams then amps up the romantic attachment of home, singing “Our love is strong enough to guide the way and we’ll walk through / Hands inside of hands / Hearts inside of hearts / Like eyes closed.”

The next few tracks are a collection of covers and re-dos of older Adams tracks. Most notable among these is the cover of Alice In Chain’s “Down in a Hole” and a new interpretation of “If I Am A Stranger” off Adams’ 2005 album “Cold Roses.”

The Alice in Chains cover is particularly chilling, as Adams seems to channel the corrosive and destructive pain of the now deceased Layne Staley, the original lead singer of Alice in Chains. Getting his voice to the point of a near-howl, Adams sings, “Down in a hole and I dont know if I can be saved / See my heart I decorate it like a grave.” Adams made the EP in the midst of detoxing off speedballs (a mixture of heroin and cocaine) and alcohol. It’s powerful, beautiful and painful to listen to, because Adams appears to feel the pain of the words and he uses the music as a means of expelling that pain.

“If I Am A Stranger” is a very different version of the song off “Cold Roses.” Its tempo slows down considerably and Adams sings much of the song in a near-whisper. The song reaches its most heartbreaking moments as Adams murmurs, “To tell the truth its hard enough without a lover / Who you want to hide your darkness from so you don’t let them down.” For anyone who has ever failed at love, this is necessary listen as Adams hits the feelings of muted romance right on the head.

There isn’t a dull moment on the EP and the songs run together perfectly. It is a brief, illuminating look into the direction of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals as they move toward their projected 2008 releases.