Ryan Adams & the Cardinals Jacksonville City Nights

After five years of teasing patient followers with a streak of selfish albums, Ryan Adams has finally returned to form. Though he never quite released an abomination, it’s safe to say Adams has continually frustrated fans ever since 2001’s inadequate Gold. Back with his band the Cardinals, after releasing the double Cold Roses in May, Adams shows that in his songwriting proliferation he can hit the target if he actually tries. Funny that his best work since 2000’s Heartbreaker is the sombrely countrified Jacksonville City Nights; obviously he took note of everyone’s bellyaching for him to return to his roots. The recent transformation into a haggard looking tramp may also have helped, but whatever it is, Adams has regained his gift for the affecting mood. He’s filled this record with timely pedal steel and strings that help make "The End” a wonderful example of his storytelling abilities. Pal Norah Jones stops by on "Dear John” to deliver a mesmerising piano-led duet showing her skill for adapting to a new environment. "September,” however, is the centrepiece that paints a tragic tale of suicide with the utmost precision and delicacy. It’s not all wrist-slitting country though; "Trains” picks up the pace for a full-band stomp that gets a little buzzed but not inebriated, and long-time admirers will appreciate the inclusion of "My Heart is Broken,” an eight-year-old song co-written by Caitlin Cary. Let’s hope Adams can try his hand at a whole different streak with his next Cardinals album, expected before the end of the year, because this feels real nice. (Lost Highway)