Ryan Adams is one of the most talented songwriters of his generation, but for years he was also one of the most troubled. In the 1990s his band Whiskeytown helped define alt-country sound, and his 2001 song "New York, New York" drew attention after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
As his fame grew, so did his drug use and erratic behavior, including stopping a concert to berate a fan who requested Bryan Adams' "Summer of 69." To be fair, the "Summer of 69" guy probably deserved it.
In 2005, Adams formed a new band, the Cardinals, performing Tuesday at Stephens Auditorium in Ames, and sobered up the next year. Members of the Cardinals were happy to find Adams' drug use wasn't an influence for his songwriting.
"Nothing has changed creatively," guitarist Neal Casal said. "If anything, he's gotten better and more prolific. The drugs didn't create songs for him or drive him creatively."
The Cardinals has become an increasingly collaborative project, and there has been talk the "Ryan Adams and" eventually might be dropped from the name. Adams created the group in part so he wasn't facing audiences with just a guitar and stool to back him up.
"I think he felt limited by being just Ryan Adams," Casal said. "It created limited expectations of him. There's a core contingent of people who would be happy to see just him singing sad songs, but that got a little lonely for him and he wants to create a bigger world than that.
"People are starting to realize they still get the Ryan Adams they loved in the first place, but also a great band on top of that."
The band's latest album, "Cardinology," hits stores Oct. 28. "Cobwebs" is a song that Casal said draws the audience into an entirely new universe. Another new song, "Fix It," has gotten the best response.
"That song is really huge with people," Casal said. "People seem to be singing along, even though it's the first time they hear it. It's easy to pick up on so quickly. It feels like we've been playing it for years."
Casal said that Adams forming the Cardinals has brought him to a stronger place musically, and the band is a collaborative effort despite Adams' prolificness. But in the end, fans will find Adams is still the centerpiece of the band.
"I think this record will be the turning point where fans will really get comfortable with the change," Casal said. "They're still getting all the personality and dynamics he brings, just under a different name. He's in a strong place now that he has a gang, friends and somewhat of a family."