Ryan Adams’ Easy Tiger, released earlier this year, was credited to Ryan Adams and not The Cardinals, though his band was credited in the liner notes, and eleven of the album’s 13 songs were even co-written by one or more Cardinals. Curious. It certainly sounded like the work of Ryan Adams and The Cardinals, save for the schlocky “Halloweenhead,” which was entertaining on its own, entirely different, merits. Even more curious, then, that Adams’ new EP, Follow The Lights, is credited to Ryan Adams and The Cardinals.
Stylistically, Follow The Lights is merely an extension of Easy Tiger‘s laid back country/folk-rock sound, which the consensus will likely agree is what Adams does best, rather than ’80s-style arena rock or morose balladry, though he has his moments in both of those realms as well. In this realm, however, he’s at his most consistent and sounds his most comfortable, and this seven-track mini release is no exception.
The first three tracks on Follow The Lights are previously unreleased originals, all quality songs that could have fit in alongside those of Easy Tiger, though these are a bit more sedate. The title track is a calm and pretty country-rock ballad, shuffling gently with lines of weeping lap steel and Adams’ sweet refrain, “there was never anywhere to go, but home.” “My Love For You Is Real” is a bit more upbeat, a simple and pleasant three chord pop song that’s light, yet catchy, and “Blue Hotel” is the softest and slowest of the three, yet builds to a heroic climax that’s considerably more soulful than its preceding songs.
From track four on, new originals cease, but this is surprisingly where some of the more exciting material lives. Adams and the Cardinals do a wonderful folk-rock cover of Alice In Chains’ “Down In a Hole,” a poignant choice given Adams’ own history with drug abuse. This particular version doesn’t necessarily stretch the song into bizarre and experimental realms, but sped up a bit and without the distortion, sounds quite lovely, as does the Cardinals version of “This Is It,” the opening track from RockNRoll. Though I, personally, defend that album far more than is healthy, this take certainly improves on it, cutting out the snarl and sneer, leaving a great, pretty song in its place. Closing out the EP are live studio recordings of “If I Am A Stranger” from Cold Roses and “Dear John” from Jacksonville City Nights. Neither one necessarily outdoes its counterpart, though both make for nice alternatives and more fodder for Ryan Adams Fantasy Album League were anyone to attempt a switch. It somehow doesn’t seem quite right to leave 2007 with just one, 40-minute album from Adams, though this fourth-quarter addition brings the year that much closer to the status quo.