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coverpic flag US - North Carolina - Full Moon 111 - 10/17/05

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
Jacksonville City Nights
Universal Music Group

Ryan Adams' rock albums tend to be drawn out, over polished journeys drawing from everyone from The Replacements to The Rolling Stones like a white Lenny Kravitz. To his credit, he can justifiably replace James Brown as the hardest working man in the music business - he's released seven mostly overrated alt-country and pop-rock albums since his debut in 2001, and this is his second this year. Many of those albums are captivating but all similarly far from perfect. With productivity to spare and a lukewarm formulistic approach, his talent draws from a few substantially flawless gems. Take "So Alive" from his 2003 release, Rock N Roll. He shouts like a post-punk Springsteen feeling the adventure of his own junglelands taking the listener through the darkest of the backstreets.

And just when it seems he's finally got the hang of being a modern Paul Westerberg - he pulls a Gram Parsons, stands back, and calls on a royal flush of classic roots country music. Cold Roses, released earlier this year, was a flattering american beauty worthy of Adams' taste for the bluegrass and all the legend that is the Dead. But Jacksonville City Nights is where he calls the ace in his sleeve- donning the southern accent and all, taking on the blunt, jealous heartbreak of Hank Williams on "My Heart Is Broken", only he's the bastard with the cheatin' heart.

Wonders never cease for him, climbing into the narration of a desperate young Willie Nelson along the long road of life on "Hard Way to Fall" with ease and passion. Three ingredients to Jacksonville's success Adams should stick to: Dirty (a band of purists clad with drum brushes and banjos), quick (this half hour suite packs more punch than the seventy minutes of Rock N Roll), and sweet (even Norah Jones makes a cameo without being show-y on "Dear John"). You can tell Adams has learned a few lessons and to tell a few stories. This is no longer alt-country, its purism would make the critics of The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo happy. Take off your boots and get out the box of keenlex, this one's a keeper.

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