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NEW YORK (Billboard) - Ryan Adams' music is often overshadowed by his eccentric behavior and the pure volume of his recorded output. But on "Cardinology," due Tuesday (October 28), his songs take center stage.
In fact, the alt-country/rock singer-songwriter is so happy with the evolution of his band, the Cardinals, over the course of five albums in the past three years that he says he'd be content if his name was dropped entirely from the packaging. "The stuff we do communally is 10 times better than the stuff I come up with," he says.
Adams may be overstating things a little, and such comments should be taken with a grain of salt from a guy who moments earlier was going off on a tangent about '80s pop metal ("Hey, if Def Leppard started a cooking school, they'd be Chef Leppard!"). But there's no question the camaraderie he shares with guitarist Neal Casal, drummer Brad Pemberton, pedal steel player Jon Graboff and bassist Chris Feinstein has helped him create one of the most focused albums of his career.
On "Cardinology," which fulfills Adams' contract with Lost Highway, the label for which he has recorded since 2000, the artist details his battles with substance abuse and his struggles to sustain relationships with remarkable clarity, best heard on the anthemic "Cobwebs," the drumless "Crossed Out Name," the harmony-rich "Natural Ghost" ("You make me feel like I'm not here/But I am/More than you think I am") and the soft, Wilco-esque ballad "Evergreen."
"We did a really great record that sounds totally like the Cardinals," Adams says with pride. "It's pretty much live on the floor. I think we did it in a really brave way. We did it raw, like we were doing a gig."
Adams' newfound clarity is music to the ears of Lost Highway chairman Luke Lewis. "He's acting grown-up right now," he says with a laugh. "I kind of miss the petulant child occasionally."
Adams offers an amusingly unfiltered look into his life at Cardinology.com, where he posts everything from set lists and live clips to fan mail, rants about his favorite Sonic Youth albums and corny fake hip-hop songs he wrote on the tour bus while bored.
After a Halloween show at Harlem's Apollo Theater, the band begins a short European tour November 8 in Dublin. Eleven December dates opening for Oasis in North America will close out the year, with more headlining shows on tap for February.
With "Cardinology" ready to hit the market, Lewis is somewhat wistful about the likely end of his often rocky working relationship with Adams. The pair fought frequently over how much music Adams could -- or should -- release. Through it all, though, Lewis remained the musician's "biggest fan."
"We took some pretty harsh criticism for putting out so much music, but we could have put out more," he says. (In 2009, Lost Highway will issue an Adams anthology featuring several new songs.) "As much as we've tried to accommodate him by putting out a lot of records, a major-label deal is probably a bit restrictive for Ryan. My sense is he'd be better served by being independent, and by that I mean totally independent."
Indeed, Adams is already looking past "Cardinology" and dreaming about where he and his bandmates will go next. "S--t's going to get weird and awesome," he says. "Because we're into bands like Oasis and Foo Fighters: big, monolithic rock bands who really explore all those areas. That's what Cardinals is. That's the work I want to do."