3. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals — Cardinology
Yea, so there were albums this year that were better than Ryan Adam's mid-tempo follow-up to last year's Starbucks-friendly release, Easy Tiger. But in assembling my list this year, I found it increasingly difficult to ignore the reminders generated by my LastFM account and iTunes Play Count column: I listened to Cardinology more than any other album in 2008.
Forget the fact that Cardinology lacks the narrative or stylistic cohesion of past Cardinals' albums. Those albums were well themed but couldn't endure Adams' penchant for indulgence and suffered as a result. But what has been true of any Ryan Adams project is especially true for Cardinology — the individual songs here are powerful enough to exist independently of any overarching thematic organization. "Born Into A Light," "Go Easy" and "Sink Ships" sit among Adams' best work since joining up with the Cardinals in 2005.
As an album name, Cardinology could not be any more fitting — it's the study of the Cardinals, a showcase of what they are capable of. Many will immediately dismiss it as trite, cliche or simplistic, especially as Adams strays about as far as he ever has from his universally heralded solo debut, 2000's Heartbreaker. Adams will never make another Heartbreaker, but would we really want him to? Cardinology is a reflection of a songwriter who's mastered the style wherein he finds his roots (country folk) and is now primarily concerned with exploring new territory.