Release Date: Oct 11, 2011
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Country, Alt-Country, Americana, Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Country-Rock
Ryan Adams is the genius critics love to hate: too prolific, too much of a chameleon, too facile, too tortured, too sensitive, too strident, too self-involved, too shallow, the sum of influences he can never hope to equal, the victim of early success he can never hope to top—an avalanche of dismissive put-downs that come as easily to critics as songwriting seems to come to Adams. Is it any wonder everyone’s favorite critical target decided to step away from music in early 2009 and try his hand at less public creative pursuits, namely writing a pair of small press books that were hungrily devoured by his hardcore fans while being largely ignored by the mainstream media. Adams being Adams, he also self-released a couple of albums that he had recorded during the Easy Tiger sessions in 2006: Orion, a limited edition, vinyl-only, heavy metal, science fiction concept album, and III/IV, a two-CD set of outtakes featuring his longtime backing band the Cardinals that was rejected as uncommercial by his former label Lost Highway.
Ryan Adams has an innate sadness that burns through all aspects of his songs, from the drone in his voice to the twang in his guitar. His 13th release, Ashes & Fire, has a new hopefulness guiding listeners toward the light at the end of the bar. From the opener “Dirty Rain” onwards, Adams gracefully pushes past his heroin-infused Love Is Hell days to present an album created thoughtfully and consciously.
While ‘[b]Is This It[/b]’’s 10th birthday was celebrated in nearly every music magazine going, there’s another defining 2001 release that hasn’t quite received the same commemoration: ‘[b]Gold[/b]’, [a]Ryan Adams[/a]’ modern classic. A pivotal album in 2001’s rock rebirth, it introduced the mainstream to a soul with a knack for creating grand, sorrowful music. But as the decade wore on and the go-to-kid for beautiful balladry grew to believe that he was in both [a]Oasis[/a] (‘[b]Rock N Roll[/b]’) and Canadian metal band [a]Voivod[/a] (‘[b]Orion[/b]’), interest began to fade.
If Ryan Adams has been a blurred figure for some years – flitting between musical projects, distracted by temptations unrelated to music – Ashes & Fire brings his talent sharply back into focus. His 13th album since leaving Whiskeytown is understated and reflective, dominated by Adams' own acoustic guitar playing, with the merest wisps of percussion and arrangements of tasteful restraint. Invisible Riverside, a ballad that sounds as if it could have fallen off one of the better Rolling Stones albums of the 1970s, is as rockified as it gets, and then only because you can hear the snare drum being hit.
With Ashes & Fire, it’s clear Ryan Adams has mellowed out hard. Now settled down with singer-actress Mandy Moore in Happily Ever After Rocker-Dudeville, he’s crooning country-folk hymns about domestic bliss with help from Norah Jones and producer Glyn Johns (the Beatles, the Who). It’s all so gentle that it’s nearly sleepy, but in a nice way.
Ryan Adams‘ hiatus from music lasted less than two years (the amount of time most active bands take between albums), but felt much longer due to the increasingly wandering nature of his records. Cardinals III/IV may have been killer, but was all over the place (not to mention it was recorded in 2005) and Orion was a half serious attempt at a sci-fi metal album. There were good tunes on both works, yet it had been quite some time since the prolific singer-songwriter had recorded something that was straight-up alternative country.
Returning refreshed after a three-year hiatus -- 2010’s III/IV dating back to 2006 sessions -- Ryan Adams dives headfirst into early-‘70s Dylan with Ashes & Fire, his first record since disbanding the Cardinals. Adams developed an easy, graceful chemistry with the Cardinals, a connection as apparent on loping homages to the Grateful Dead as it was on approximations of honky tonk, a connection absent yet still felt on Ashes & Fire, which retains a similar relaxed gait as the Cardinals at their softest. Unlike all his albums with the Cardinals, this isn’t a record where the musicianship is placed at the forefront, this is a singer/songwriter record, the music -- including exquisite coloring from Heartbreaker keyboardist Benmont Tench -- serving as a warm bed for Adams’ rambling words.
The early buzz on Ashes & Fire is that it's Ryan Adams' best record since Heartbreaker. If that made you check in for the first time in years, I'll translate: it's his first record that kinda sounds like Heartbreaker. Though his artistic daring over the past decade has been greatly exaggerated, this is truly a bold move for Adams. He can no longer claim to be a victim, whether it's a victim of an untamed creative streak, substances, tone-deaf record execs, or critics who have the nerve to judge him in light of his earlier work.
Review Summary: The domestication of Ryan AdamsThe best part about being a Ryan Adams fan is that there’s really something for everyone. Do you like populist ‘70s-styled rock ‘n roll, like 2001’s Gold, or do you prefer the tears-in-your-beer country reminiscent of Haggard and Emmylou Harris, in which case Jacksonville City Nights is one of the best you’ll ever hear? Or maybe you like depressing alt-rock akin to Elliott Smith (Love Is Hell), with a side dish of adult contemporary pop rock (Easy Tiger)? It’s easy to be frustrated with Ryan Adams, because he’s just as often to drop a dud as he is to release a brilliant pastiche of past styles. Then again, it’s easy to love him, because if you don’t like his newest release you can just wait a few months to hear another one.
Say what you will about Ryan Adams's more perplexing albums -- Rock 'n Roll, for example, or the not-quite-metal Orion -- but he at least sounds excited on them. Flawed as those experiments may be, they show Adams pushing a bit, pressing, urgent. It's refreshing (if the music isn't quite) because his last work with the Cardinals felt pretty tame. Cardinology and the extensive odds and ends set III/IV were both pleasant sounding but also workmanlike.
The Ryan Adams of 2000's exquisitely sad Heartbreaker and its chart-friendly successor, Gold, has long been missing, presumed dead, so – after years of career sabotage and patchy revivals – it's a surprise to find him retreading old territory so confidently. Recorded with veteran producer Glyn Johns, this feels like a return to instinctive Adams songwriting: gentle, dewy-eyed country ("Kindness") and lush, soulful pop ("Chains of Love"), MORish but with emotional depths. It hasn't the shiver factor of his debut but there's pleasure in such smooth, elegantly crafted songs after his recent strainings.
For years people were telling Ryan Adams to slow it down with the old album releases (and more), maybe employ a more stringent editing technique, but he didn’t listen – until he decided to pack in music altogether. Now, a few years down the line and after a stint as an author, Adams seems to be back as a musician, and last year’s III/IV double album seemed to suggest he still hadn’t listened to anyone about the benefit of quality over quantity. Now though, we have Ashes & Fire, a ‘proper’ return as Ryan Adams rather than hiding behind his competent but rarely thrilling backing band The Cardinals.
RYAN ADAMS plays the Winter Garden on December 10. See listing. Rating: NNN Ryan Adams has released an average of 1.3 albums per year for the past decade. Some years it's one album, other years it's more like 0.3. His 13th has a handful of good tunes but a bunch of bad ones, too.. Inconsistency has ….
“Am I really who I was?” Ryan Adams asks on “Lucky Now,” in a moment that seems to speak for Ashes & Fire as a whole. He sounds like he’d really like to be. Comparisons to his first, highly-praised album Heartbreaker have been trotted out since the album’s release, which should give you pause, because resorting to singer-songwritery schtick at this point is not a sign of revival.
Ryan Adams appears to be a different person these days. Always capable of some of the most staggeringly brilliant songwriting of modern times, maturity has caught up with the 36-year-old, mercifully moving him away from the tedious self-mythologisation that characterised his early career. We can also expect discourse on this fragile iconoclast to grow out of tedious references to pretty much anyone looming large on the country/rock spectrum, and tiresome references to his prolific output and erratic personality.
ROCK Ryan Adams, 'Ashes & Fire' Following an uncharacteristic hiatus, singer-songwriter Ryan Adams returns with this lovely, low-key effort. A man of ever-changing moods - from brash rock to country jaunts to shimmering pop - Adams is in a mellow frame of mind on “Ashes & Fire.’’ The largely acoustic album throws off the aural equivalent of a warm, low lamplight and could serve as a perfect soundtrack for meandering late-night conversations about love and hope and sex and dreams, both wistful and optimistic. The title track is an amiably creaky back porch jam.
Ashes & Fire is a new, yet familiar chapter for Ryan Adams; a departure from his veiled, wayward nature and refocused on the present without comprising his eloquent songwriting. “Dirty Rain” introduces the record’s perpetuating theme of forward motion through the voice of a person who has suffered the untimely loss of a loved one. Adams describes positive memories of the situation by optimistically remembering a devastating loss.
Adams’ lucky 13th long-player showcases an artist maturing with grace and poise. Colin Roberts 2011 For an artist with such noted prolificacy as Ryan Adams, the release of another album has the tendency to pass the world at large without note. Few outside his hardcore fanbase will be aware he released a solo metal record, Orion, last year; or that in the 11 years since his lauded debut Heartbreaker he's now released a dozen albums, either solo or with his band The Cardinals.
If you don’t like a Ryan Adams album, just wait a few minutes for the next one. Last year, he released a vinyl-only heavy metal concept album under the title Orion and the III/IV double album of songs from the Easy Tiger sessions with The Cardinals. Since 2000, he has released nine official solo albums and four with The Cardinals, including a live album.