Record Machine: Follow The Lights by Ryan Adams and The Cardinals

Though Ryan Adams, with or without The Cardinals, is one of my favorite musicians, I’m still working my way towards owning his entire catalog. The man is prolific, and I don’t have the disposable income that I once had. So when I stumbled upon the vinyl version of 2007’s Follow The Lights for seven dollars, I needed to finally buy it.

Ryan Adams - The Cardinals - Follow The Lights

I suppose I would describe Follow The Lights (released as Everybody Knows in the UK) as an EP, since there are only seven songs, and three of them — “This Is It,” “If I Am A Stranger,” and “Dear John” —  appear as alternate versions of songs previously appearing on other albums. “Down in a Hole” is an Alice in Chains cover, which will surprise no one who knows how much of a metal fan the man is. At a buck per song, I’ll admit that part of my justification for buying this is that I had yet to write about Ryan Adams for Record Machine.

Not that I haven’t talked about him previously — Alphabet Soup and 30 Years of Music are littered with tributes and references to him, and the Cold Roses-era “If I Am A Stranger” is one of my favorite songs from anyone.

To tell the truth
it’s hard enough without a lover
who you only want to hide your darkness from
so you don’t let them down
If I am a stranger now to you,
I will always be…

The songs on Follow The Lights are mostly low-key and always ruminative, as Adams attempts to define his feelings and tell a story through his particularly melancholy filter. Writing love, lust, and loneliness so well, he longs to fill in the darkened gaps in his life and desires a bit of ease.

My love for you is long
It crossed the oceans on a sail
My love for you is true
Meanings change but not the tale

Though the songs at first glance seem quieter than Easy Tiger, an album also released that year, they offer similar thematic territory. Ryan Adams teaches himself “how to grow old,” and hopes that maybe, finally, the lessons will stick.

Ryan Adams - The Cardinals - Follow The Lights (back cover)Side One

Follow The Lights
My Love For You Is Real
Blue Hotel
Down in a Hole

Side Two

This Is It – Cardinals Version
If I Am A Stranger – Live in the Studio
Dear John – Live in the Studio

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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