Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
[Static Tongues / Mom + Pop, 2011]
Nick Torsell, October 17, 2011
Originally published by Life’s Sweet Breath
Listen: “Lucky Now”
I’ve worn in Ryan Adams’ albums since picking up Easy Tiger about a week after graduating high school. I had a crush on this girl who didn’t like me back and between dealing with that and leaving for college in a couple of months, I needed something I could mope around town to. Adams’ catalog turned out to be very good for that, from his early country rock by way of Paul Westerberg stage with Whiskeytown, to the back-to-back dusty americana jams on Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights. When I did make it to school a few months later, I liked having something I could get lost in for a while, a diversion from my boring campus in the middle of nowhere.
Writers and even fans, people who liked Heartbreaker but not his later stuff, have given Adams a bad rap for being inconsistent from record to record. Their argument being that he refuses to choose a style, a signifier past the recognizable voice that sang “Oh My Sweet Carolina” or “Come Pick Me Up.” They’re chasing a ghost at this point. The people who cry for the songs they know and pout when they get new stuff that the band is jumping out of their shoes to play are the same people criticizing Adams for making the albums he wants to make. The same things that made Heartbreaker a go-to album for when you’re sitting alone in the dark are present across his whole discography.
His latest, Ashes & Fire, is meant for light. Sounding assured and confident, the first full length on his new label PAX-AM is more Terrapin Station (eighth track “Save Me” sounds like a pretty straight-forward ode to the winding Dead live staple,) than his own haunted back-catalog. There’s a calm here that’s missing from Heartbreaker or Love Is Hell, album opener “Dirty Rain” even begins with “Last time I was here it was raining/it ain’t raining anymore.”
The album is divided by quiet and loud instead of bleakness and hope. “Ashes & Fire,” ”Chains of Love, “ and “Kindness” are really the only tracks that clue you in to Adams’ love of big joyous choruses. Glyn Johns production throughout is spectacular, everything sounds crisp and warm, giving Adams room to let loose on standout “Do I Wait.” Centered around a restrained swirling pipe organ until the breakdown, when the lead guitar comes in. Unlike Easy Tiger standout “Halloween Head,” Adams doesn’t scream out for the “GUITAR SOLO,” it’s just the only way to tie the song together.
The thing that’s so exhilarating with an album like this from an artist who has already released so many other albums, is the promise that there’s more on the way. More touring, more albums, and desire to learn and make things better. There will be downers, albums that bore but not aren’t really bad, but there will also be ones like Ashes & Fire, where everything comes together for forty-five minutes.