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Ryan Adams & the Cardinals

Ryan Adams couldn't be more full of himself if he were the corpulent Mr. Creosote, as the Cold Roses packaging makes clear. These 18 songs could fit on a single disc, yet they've been spread over two CDs to justify a gatefold design that mimics the classic '70s double albums he measures himself against. Furthermore, Roses is one of three new sets he expects to release this year. Such profligacy implies that Adams thinks his every creative act bears the mark of genius.

He's wrong about that, as illustrated by "Meadowlake Street," a four-minute song with a three-minute intro. Still, Roses is a vast improvement over the stylistic gamesmanship of last year's Love Is Hell. On his latest, he wisely sticks with the country-rock approach he's been guzzling since the Whiskeytown era, and the move pays off on solemn weepers like "Now That You're Gone" as well as on the rollicking "Let It Ride," which is as phony as all get-out but pretty irresistible anyhow. About half of Roses blooms, and if that makes one of its discs even more superfluous than it already was, he'd never admit it. Give that man a wafer-thin mint.

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