Doofy name; comfortably well-worn alt-country grooves. On the fourth album with his backing-band-turned-full-collaborators in as many years (meaning he’s actually slowing down a bit), rock’s favorite troubled troubadour finds himself settling down at long last. Gone are the stylistic fits and chemical-fueled lyrical tantrums; in their place are dependably catchy, authentically home-grown arrangements that pay homage to precursors ranging from Gram Parsons to Neil Young.
Not to say that Cardinology is complacent in its fine-tuned melding of classic-guitar riffs and retro-rootsy pedal steel. Though the earth-shaking garage stutter of “Magick” might veer toward the mindless, lo-fi blare of polarizing 2003 effort Rock N Roll, Adams & Co. address the frontman’s battles with addiction in closing piano ballad “Stop,” while the themes of religion and psychology receive play in “Born Into a Light” and “Fix It,” respectively. Even the quieter moments (“Natural Ghost,” “Cobwebs”) are less indulgent than they are measured.
There was always an undeniable depth to Adams’ musical meanderings, but now that he’s sanded down the rougher edges and surrounded himself with counterweights to his more manic tendencies, he’s produced a soaring, zero-filler collection that’s damn near timeless. And for once, he actually sounds happy about it.