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Musical genius shines through on new album

Observer Scene | Thursday, November 10, 2005

Ryan Adams isn’t a country singer. He’s also not a rocker, and he’s definitely not a pop star. He’s simply Ryan Adams, and this makes his latest effort uniquely vibrant and brilliant.

Returning to the country roots of his early career with the band Whiskeytown, he and the Cardinals have joined to create “Jacksonville City Nights,” an album that couples pure country influence with Adam’s inimitable musical talent. As he concentrates on such a small portion of American geography, it is easy for a person to feel as if they are a part of the stories carved through the tracks. Curiously, Adams chooses the largest city in Florida to set his album, which is also a city that is hardly ever thought of as an enviable destination.

The poignant and haunting duet with Norah Jones, “Dear John,” is a masterpiece of romantic destruction and musical exploration. Using a heavy piano, the track seems to be the product of two lovers now separated, singing out the same song at the same time to each other from thousands of miles away. It speaks of the classic Adams themes of heartbreak and loss, alleviated by a strong shot or handle of Tennessee whiskey.

The main difference between “Jacksonville City Nights” and earlier Ryan Adams albums is the obvious lack of musical complexity. While he often used to employ the electric guitar and amps, he instead focuses on piano, fiddle and acoustic guitar backed by a light drum. This decision not only exposes the plea for mercy for which Adams always seems to be searching, but also the artistic realization that it is not noise, but truth, that sincerely affects a discerning listener.

While the album has a few misses, these tracks even begin to acquire a certain genius when listened to multiple times.

Harkening back to the days of such musical acts as Neil Young and Gram Parsons, Adams returns his moan of a voice to the bare-bones country of its rural American descent. For the first time in a long while, Adams seems to fit his voice perfectly to the meaning of the words he sings. The tales he relives are those of the common man. His voice reminds us that music is meant to be a testament to the common emotions we share and not meant to be digitally re-mastered or enhanced. While his music and voice are unadorned by such distractions, they together achieves the rare distinction of allowing the listener to truly connect their own thoughts to that of the artist’s.

Though both he and his career have been classified as overly dramatic and eccentric, “Jacksonville City Nights” proves to be a true testament to the revival of real soul and emotion in music.

Adam’s accounts of basic human pain and hope could not achieve their power without the raw intelligence of his own experience channeled through his music.

Adams has announced that he has another album in the works, which is due out before year’s end. Clearly, the inexhaustible Adams is on to something exceptional in his musical future.

Going by “Jacksonville City Nights,” he simply cannot go wrong.