At its best, Cold Roses lives between the twin blooms of the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” and the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, each of which turned to country music at the start of the Seventies to sustain a counterculture rapidly running out of gas.
That sound — exhaustion and transcendence chasing each other round and round — gives Cold Roses its peculiar charge, and it is peculiar. Because in many ways this is just another Ryan Adams record: eighteen songs where twelve would have done (stretched across two CDs, no less), snatches of lyrics so lazy you want to slap them awake and, as always, broken hearts piled up like cigarette butts in an ashtray. But a Ryan Adams record with Jerry Garcia-like guitar trying to snake its way skyward? That’s something new.
Adams made Cold Roses with the outfit he Toured with last year, the Cardinals, and much of it feels like real road music: detailed arrangements, built up night after night, that still leave room for finding new details in the moment. So the songs seem tossed off and carefully constructed at the exact same moment, a trick that works perfectly on “Magnolia Mountain” and “Easy Plateau,” each graced by guitar solos that spread out like morning light, or the literary honky-tonk of “Cherry Lane.” Images of houses (all empty) and promises (all broken) abound; but you also get Seventies-dude poesy and, ahem, evocations of the mythos of the American landscape. Adams promises two more albums later this year. Is it too much to hope that he’ll do with those what anyone with an iPod can do with Cold Roses: edit out the sleepy stuff for a truly killer playlist?