Besides the obvious name similarities, it has always confounded me why Ryan and Bryan Adams are constantly compared and confused. Canadian Bryan Adams rode the cheesy pop wave of the late ’80s with unfortunate songs like “Cuts Like a Knife,” “Summer of ’69” and the love theme from “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.” Floppy-haired Bryan most recently lent a song to the “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” soundtrack. It is my assumption that Ryan Adams would rather gouge out his own eyes with a broken whiskey bottle than provide musical accompaniment for an animated horse film. Ryan is a brash rock ‘n’ roller with his tongue placed only lightly against his cheek, a cigarette balanced precariously between his parted lips and a country-boy snarl.
Despite the unfortunate name comparisons, these boys couldn’t be farther apart on the musical spectrum. Hopefully, Ryan’s newest release, Cold Roses, will help widen the gap between this oft-mistaken pair. Cold Roses may be a departure from the sound of Adams’ last album, Love is Hell, but it is not a complete departure from his overall sound. Where Love is Hell channeled Morrissey’s sound, Cold Roses finds Adams discovering the beauty and simplicity of the country-western ballad. While Adams has always been known as a seminal alt-country artist, his more recent releases have leaned toward rock than twang. Not afraid to ruffle a few feathers, Adams threw together a new band and experimented with his Carolina roots on this two-disk album.
Disk one starts out slowly with quieter songs like “Magnolia Mountain” and “Sweet Illusions,” setting the country-fortified tone of the disc. The inclusion of the steel guitar and steel lap guitar on songs like “Cherry Lane” solidify the sound. Adams presents this disc as an ode to a breakup, lamenting the process through each of the nine songs. The disc culminates with the subtly approached piano track, “How Do You Keep Love Alive” which asks that very question.
Disc two takes on a noticeably different feel, one more reminiscent of 2000’s Heartbreaker, complete with blues influences and Adams’ signature harmonica. “Let It Ride” stands out as the best song on Cold Roses, and an example of near-perfect songwriting in general. With its dead-on timing, simplistically divine lyrics and stellar guitar, “Ride” never misses a beat in the three-minute duration, leaving the listener craving more. Adams shows off his lyrical talents in “Ride,” as well, singing, “Tennessee’s a brother to my sister Carolina where they’re gonna bury me / And I ain’t ready to go / I’m never ready to go / Let it ride.” The title song “Cold Roses” provides an out-of-place yet appropriate lapse in the sound of the disc. With overriding electric guitar, blues influences dominate this track, culminating with ” Daylight comes in exposin’ / Saturday bruises and cold roses / Cold roses.” Cold Roses possesses a distinct yin-yang quality to it, delicately balancing each musical and lyrical feature. The double-disc juxtaposes day and night with colorful artwork, country and blues, men and women, and love and hate with well-penned lyrics. The CD jacket and surface of each disc also mimic this theme, as does the two-CD set.
This album challenges listeners just a little, forcing them to take the album for what it is – an excellent release – rather than what it is not, a repeat of Gold or Heartbreaker. Any effort made by the listener is well-rewarded with high-caliber instrumentalism, creativity and lyrical fortitude. Besides, a little dust on the boots never hurt anyone.
[Brenna Boyce, we miss you already. Sniffle!]