Ever since the big, splashy Gold failed to make Ryan Adams an all-conquering superstar -- it bolstered his reputation as a rock critic darling, but never had the sales to match the press -- he's retreated to genre exercises, beginning with the sleek modern rock of 2003's Rock N Roll and its moody alt-rock counterpart, Love Is Hell, carrying ...
Ever since the big, splashy Gold failed to make Ryan Adams an all-conquering superstar -- it bolstered his reputation as a rock critic darling, but never had the sales to match the press -- he's retreated to genre exercises, beginning with the sleek modern rock of 2003's Rock N Roll and its moody alt-rock counterpart, Love Is Hell, carrying through to his Neil Young/Grateful Dead pastiche on his spring 2005 double album, Cold Roses, and now its autumn sequel, Jacksonville City Nights. Arriving a little over four months after Cold Roses as the second installment of a planned trilogy of 2005 releases, Jacksonville City Nights -- which at one point was going to be called the less-evocative but calendar-specific September -- is Adams' straight-up, straight-ahead country album, a lean 46-minute collection of 14 songs designed for late-night drinking. While the terrific cover art deliberately echoes classic '60s country LPs, the sound of the album isn't quite as honky tonk as that suggests, thanks to a handful of brooding numbers like "September" that are too introspective, lyric-centered, and light on melody to truly qualify as classicist country. These are the weakest moments here, but they're also the exception to the rule, since most of the songs here represent a number of classic country archetypes, from the opening pair of barroom anthems, "A Kiss Before I Go" and "The End," to his "Dear John" duet with Norah Jones or the light hillbilly swagger of the galloping "Trains" and how "My Heart Is Broken" is sweetened by just enough swings to give it a candy coating but not enough to turn it into countrypolitan schmaltz. As good as these cuts sound, it's still hard not to shake the suspicion that Ryan Adams is primarily a pastiche artist, since it's not only easy to spot influences throughout the album, but because the atmosphere of the record makes more of an impression than the individual songs. That said, Jacksonville City Nights still ranks as one of Adams' stronger albums, not just because he's returning to his rootsy roots -- after all, this isn't alt-country, this is pure country -- but because it maintains a consistent mood, is tightly edited and well sequenced, and thanks to the Cardinals, has the easy assurance of Cold Roses, which is preferable to the somewhat desperate feel of the records immediately following Heartbreaker. It may not all add up to a major statement, which is something Gold and Rock N Roll aspired to be, but it surely makes for a more likeable and ultimately more listenable album. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi