Sunday, April 14, 2013

Track of the Week: Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, "Peaceful Valley"

I've always felt that Ryan Adams was one of the most underrated and under-appreciated musical artists of our time.  I chalk much of this up to his famously erratic personality, as well as his tremendously fertile output, which included three albums (one of them a double) during 2005.  Before potential new listeners had a chance to absorb his new output, Adams hit them with something new, and often very different.  At times the quantity did not always add up to quality (29 was probably a bridge too far), but altogether he managed to write a stunning array of great songs in the oughties.  (After  long hiatus, his most recent record, Ashes and Fire, is a mellow treat.)  Although Adams started out in the alt-country world with the seminal Whiskeytown, albums like Love is Hell strayed far from the roots music road.

I think he managed to expertly balance his country roots, openly professed love of Morrissey and the Smiths, and punk rock feel on his 2005 double album with the Cardinals, Cold Roses.  It rocks, twangs, and aches in equal measure.  However, I think he came closest to perfection on a track on the following record, the honky-tonk drenched Jacksonville City Nights.  That song is "Peaceful Valley," a longing for heaven as a release from a cruel and frustrating world.  As song about the afterlife, it's about ten times as profound as all of the vacuous "praise" music put together.  There's a real edge to this song, wondering if heaven means giving up on the good things in life (like wine, cigarettes and coffee).  Beyond that, it turns hope for the afterlife into a kind of dark death wish to be rid of this wretched earthly existence.  Few songwriters out there can tackle material like this and make the listener believe it.

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