Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

In the current era, it is a far more onerous task to pinpoint the pacesetters in Americana and alt-country. Previous generations were blessed with easily identifiable heavyweights — luminaries even — who met and often exceeded expectations for where the genres could travel. They are now, however, sounds that have been diseminated and spread into the many nooks and crannies of indie rock. While clearly an adherence to the rule that “immitation is the sincerest form of flattery," it has made tracking the genres’ progressions that much more difficult. Amidst this dispersal, Ryan Adams has remained admirably faithful (within the general public consciousness, at least), and his tone could arguably be traced directly down the family tree to its roots.
Follow The Lights, an EP of sorts trailing on the heels of 2007’s Easy Tiger, serves as an informal touch of the cap to The Cardinals, Adams’ full band. And full it is. There is no flashiness to speak of, but rather a comprehensiveness that feels nourishing. New and old material sandwich an Alice In Chains cover that serves its purpose but does little more (for those curious, by the way, a rootsy, solemn treatment of Layne Staley’s growl results in a decently pleasant Neil Young nod). It is an odd arrangement, although certainly not palpable enough to disrupt the fairly smooth ride.
Knowing the band’s true capabilities and understanding that this is an opportunity for exploration, however, many of the elements one wishes would be prominent are ultimately restrained by production. The more emotive instruments are tuckjed too deelpy in the background — the banjo, it seems, is only there to reinforce that this is indeed Americana should anyone doubt the fact. But can you really blame the producers when you work with a voice as thickly covered in straw, mud and worldliness? Thankfully, the lap steel earns a leading role in “Blue Hotel,” finally allowing the album to set anchor somewhere in the plains between Texas and Georgia.
“Follow The Lights” wastes little time in reinforcing Adams’ well-entrenched style — it plays just like a Big Star ballad from front to back. “My Love For You Is Real” ambles in next, and one begins to get a sense as to why so many have chosen to tread their own alt-country trail. Neither song builds upon previous leaps and bounds with daring, or even some moderate playing out. It is no fault of The Cardinals, however, who are waterproof tight but only offered enough time to quickly brighten a simple bridge or two.
“This Is It,” mercifully, is devoid of absurd production flourishes and suits Adams much better as a nonchalant country stroll. Easily the album’s two most successful tracks, though, are those played live — where the metallic squeak of chord changes and timbre imperfections give the sound a much weightier context. Truthfully, Adams is a musician who will always be better on stage, and hopefully this most recent effort will provide reason enough for all The Cardinals to draw the spotlight.