Music Recommendation: Cardinology by Ryan Adams

As this is my first review of music I figure its high time I say a thing or two about how it is done. This is not about mining a work of art for a “Christian nugget.” Art comes from the soul, and it is impolite to mine a soul. Art is about a connection between to humans over their mutual life in this silly, wonderful, sad world. You cannot figure out everything on your own, you need a little help. That is where art – today, Ryan Adams – comes in. Adams has lived on different streets than you have, and in 3 minute and 30 second intervals he will take you by the hand wandering through that maze of alleys and narrow shops where vendors hawk wares you never dreamed of, but always hoped to.

I do not know Ryan Adams or why he makes his music, but the person i see in glimpses through the billowing curtain of his music is part whimsy and mischief pulled over a deep well of insight and loneliness sharp enough to pierce the veil that lies between singer and listener. I have seen Adams in concert once in Columbia, Mo in the Missouri Theater looking every bit of uncomfortable with the staid, seated audience in the classy theater. He called us his “NPR audience.” You got the impression he was used to smoky, pink-lit crowds screaming and pressing in on him at the foot of the stage to the noise of beer bottles tipping over and shouted song requests. But that night in the Missouri Theater we would not rise up into that typical concert crowd no matter how he taunted us. It brought a mischief out in the band and their banter reflected their trying to make sense of the atmosphere, while we listened from our soft, fixed, stadium chairs, and laughed generously at their poor jokes.

Then the music would begin and the ethos of the stage would swing from nervous, teenage banter to a kind of sad profundity that had us all open-mouthed and on the edge of our seats. It was as though something had fallen in between us and covered them, or something had been revealed. The music was alternately loud and brash, and soft and poignant. Adams sang as though the voice was being drawn out of him by large, invisible hands that were pulling strongly, but tenderly, as if not to let the fragile thread break. He bent over the microphone as if the singing was costing him something.

This was the Cardinology tour for their new album of the same name and they mixed new songs with old favorites that the crowd responded to with applause. Adams style gets at me because of that same peculiar mix that we saw on the stage that night. He seems part trickster and part bereaved. His music swings through all sorts of genres and tempos, yet always returning to that loud guitar and slight country twang that is his staple. Cardinology yields up its fruits slowly and is worth many listens.

Read the lyrics from “Crossed Out Name” and ask yourself if you can see the sadness in it. Can you see the questions? He is asking the most important questions about existence, God, and whether or not it will be ok in the end. To paraphrase Francis Schaeffer, this is sensitivity crying out in the dark and until we understand the truth contained here we have no right to speak to our generation.

“Into the crowded streets I go
Eventually they lead me back home
Where we used to live,
I live alone and into bed I go

I wish I could tell you
Just how I felt
I don’t pray I shower
And say goodnight to myself
And when I close my eyes
I feel like a page
With a crossed out name
With a crossed out name…

I Wish I could tell you
Just how I’m hurt
Then point the location
And turn the universe
And when I close my eyes
I see a fire so blank
And my crossed out name
Crossed-out names
I see a crossed out name
I see a crossed out name.”

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