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Clear And Present

Ryan Adams' music is often overshadowed by his eccentric behavior and the pure volume of his recorded output. But on "Cardinology," due this week via Lost Highway, his songs are the real story, not Ad

Ryan Adams' music is often overshadowed by his eccentric behavior and the pure volume of his recorded output. But on "Cardinology," due this week via Lost Highway, his songs are the real story, not Adams himself.

In fact, the artist is so happy with the evolution of his band the Cardinals during 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 the label for which he's 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."