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Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
Label: Pax Americana Record Company – PAX-AM 011, Capitol Records – 509996 79070 2 1
Formats: CD, LP, Download
Released: 11 Oct 2011
Genre: Folk, Country, Rock
The one time lead singer of Country/Alt-Rock band Whiskytown, Ryan Adams has lead a rather controversial career since leaving in 2000 and releasing his first solo album, Heartbreaker, to wide critical acclaim. He then backed that success up with a second album, Gold, the following year though that album wasn’t his first choice and was rather chosen by his record label as his original choice was considered “too sad”. Since then though the applauds have been rather muted as he has expanded his musical craft through various sonic guises including, hardcore Punk outfit The Finger, Sci-Fi Heavy Metal combo, Orion and with a new backing band The Cardinals. In these intervening years between going solo and Ashes & Fire Adams has been prolific releasing 12 albums in 10 years with a couple of limited cassette releases (yep the long dead format being used in 2012) and a couple of other projects as well, but this is where the musical controversy comes in as for many critics those musical detours have never quite hit the heights of his first two albums.
So here we are in 2011 and Ryan Adams is back solo and Ashes & Fire is getting the critics all steamed up again with that ever so over used phrase, “back on form” though does this mean he was just not retreading his past like it seems lots of fans and critics want artists to do and now that he is alls well with the world? here we have an album thats definitely taking us back to those early albums in sound and feel being straight out of the personal Ryan Adams American roots music songbook. Its an album of heartfelt songs that are reminiscent of Dylan at times but without the harder hitting poetic slant that Dylan is famous for, these are simpler in lyrical construction, in a more Bruce Springsteen kind of way, being rather straight to the point and that point? I’m sure everyone will have their own ideas probably fueled by how much they’ve followed the musical and personal life of Adams. They do come across to me as reflective of his past being slower burning than those more youthful early albums, they are more smoldering ashes than crackling fire if you want, but some of the tracks do raise the pulse so its not all introspective soul searching.
This is a beautifully recorded and arranged album which leads you to feel that that early acclaim was well deserved, the sound is warm, luscious and classy without getting in the way of the songs, you can tell this is a full band playing, but with an intimacy of a solo effort that seems like they are playing for you and only you. The combination of guitar, drums, piano, bass, keyboards and sometimes harmonica, slide guitar are easy on the ears allowing you to slip into the 11 songs as if you’ve been listening to them for years but there is enough variety and things going on for you to be coming back to this album many times as more of the layers are revealed each listen, deceptively simple is apt here. Though many critics jumped up and down with the sentiments that Adams has finally come home from his daring and dangerous musical trip around the fringes of our diverse musical landscape, with this album its seems as if it has done him more of a service than disservice and I’d rather many more musicians would take those risks with their careers than just follow a well beaten path to celebrity and stardom but musical stagnation.
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I knew nothing of this artist before this arrived for review, just a vague feeling I had listened to something by him on Spotify once.