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Ryan Adams and the Cardinals

Why do sour, grumpy bands like Wilco receive critical acclaim while all Ryan Adams gets is grief? I suspect it's because he's having a great time, what with writing and recording a song every five minutes, screwing starlets and doing drugs that don't involve needles. In hipster circles, pleasure is a bad thing, and Adams seems to take as much pleasure in playing music as he does in antagonizing critics who give him bad reviews.

Hot on the spurs of his 2005 double country-rock album Cold Roses, Adams pours a 14-song shot of whiskey-stained ballads called Jacksonville City Nights. He's all twang and beery tears on this album, suppressing his hyperactive tendency to switch styles as often as he did on Gold and Rock N Roll. Adams' influences are always on display, though. "A Kiss Before I Go" is straight-up George Jones, with its sad refrain of a drink menu: "one shot, one beer, one kiss." "The End" is the best waltz the town of Jacksonville, N.C., will ever receive, and "The Hardest Part" is pure Gram Parsons, its truck-driving narrator offering a litany of trials, only to admit that true love is the one thing he can't find on the white line.

However, it's the suicidal lover in "September" and the mystery of her smile as she announces her death that is tough to shake. Indeed, the ghosts and characters of Jacksonville City Nights are as moving as anything you'll find on an old Carter Family or Louvin Brothers record.

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