Compassion is a tricky emotion to get across in a rock 'n' roll song. Full on pheremonal lust or cavalier Jack Nicholson couldn't-give-a-fuckery or total apocalyptic heartbreak, no problem. But any expression of empathy or caring runs the risk of sounding sappy.
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals pulled off the improbable this year with a song called 'Go Easy' off their Cardinology record. I'd never paid Mr Adams much attention before. I recall playing Gold a lifetime ago and thinking that if I wanted to hear a melange of Neil Young & Crazy Horse, the Band and the Rolling Stones, I'd play them all in quick succession. My loss.
'Go Easy' plays like a letter to an ex-lover embroiled in some awful fix which the singer can do little about. When Adams sings,"I will always love you/So go easy on yourself" he sounds at once strong and sure and terribly vulnerable – you can tell he's still cut up about this person, even though the romance has burned off. He sounds powerless to intervene, but unable to not care. 'Go Easy' leaves us feeling that little bit more human than we were before we heard it. Which is about all we can ask of a piece of music.
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