Ryan Adams & the Cardinals

Admittedly, we washed our hands of Ryan Adams when his antics 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, but also because of the impression that writing songs has once again taken priority for him. "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 play-acting (c'mon, bud, a song called "Pa"?), a shade too adult-contemporary (the Norah Jones duo "Dear John") or just plain corny ("Withering Heights"), we'll forgive him. At least it finally sounds like he's trying -- or maybe like he isn't trying so hard.


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