In a 2003 interview, Ryan Adams' idol, Paul Westerberg, suggested that it might do the younger singer-songwriter some good to get his teeth kicked in. This seemingly mean-spirited comment, despite coming from someone who'd slapped an audience member that same year, was taken personally. But Westerberg was right. Anyone who knew Adams from the band Whiskeytown or 2000's tousled Heartbreaker was now subject to rootsy slop and only the occasional gem. But Adams finally kicked himself with the shaky, poorly received Rock N Roll -- and he's better for it. Jacksonville City Nights, along with its companion release, May's Cold Roses, finds Adams back in form. A collection of torch songs and weepers, Jacksonville City Nights is his most traditional country record. But it's not the saloon piano and pedal steel that signal the maturity of the onetime wheel-spinning golden boy. Like the literate honky-tonk of the late Gary Stewart, these songs sound genuinely weary and passionate. When Adams warns, "I can unwind like yarn from a spool," it's a consumer warning to anyone who still takes him for the male Sheryl Crow he once threatened to become.
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