Ryan Adams & the Cardinals

Jacksonville City Nights

Admittedly, we washed our hands of Ryan Adams when the antics of the altcountry pinup became as shamelessly precious as his subtly titled sea-change record, Rock N Roll. When he took time away from headline feuds and Hollywood girlfriends to actually make music, it seemed the earnest well that ran beneath his young career was in fact a geyser of half-baked, tossed-off horse pucky. Finally, with Jacksonville City Nights, there's a glint of the Adams we once held dear, not only because of the rhinestone sparkle of early '70s Nashville production (oodles of plucky Telecaster, pedal steel, and fiddle make the record far more C 'n' W than anything previous), but also because it lends the impression that writing songs has again taken priority for Adams over boosting his Q Rating. "Peaceful Valley," "A Kiss Before I Go," and "The End" are some of the best tunes under the songwriter's name in years, and even when he gets silly with the urban cowboy playacting (c'mon, bud, a song called "Pa"?), a shade too adult-contemporary (the Norah Jones duo "Dear John" is like porn for a KOIT program manager), or just plain corny ("Withering Heights"), we'll forgive him. After all, at least it finally sounds like he's trying -- or maybe like he isn't trying so hard.

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