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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ryan Adams - Less is more, 10 Oct 2011
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This review is from: Ashes & Fire (Audio CD)
Those who were lucky enough to catch Ryan Adams recent UK acoustic tour (the sweltering Oxford Playhouse gig was a superb performance*) will have seen the alt country troubadour in a quiet reflective mood. His new album "Ashes & Fire" accurately captures that ambience and is a genuinely lovely album full of strong songwriting and a number of potential classics. It's worth stating from the outset that this album is neither another "Heartbreaker" or "Gold" as the quality control across this new work is not as innovative or radical enough. Ryan Adams had "retired" from music for a number of years and spent much of this period sorting out his personal life and exercising demons so while Ashes & Fire represents a proper album if it has a template then it's the intimacy of 2005's largely low key "29". Whatever the case that overused term "return to form" is highly appropriate.

It all kicks off with "Dirty Rain" which grows on every listen and is the sort of effortless alt country sung with the rich North Carolina twang which Adams should take a patent on. The excellent organ backing of the Heartbreakers Benmont Tench is a consistent and welcome innovation throughout. The title track of the album is alternatively the one real out and out country anthem alia "Jacksonville City Nights" but happily fits in the running order. The next two songs "Come home" and "Rocks" are lush ballads although the latter just about manages to stay on the right side of mawkish. Much better is the tougher "Do I wait" built on a classic chord structure and better lyrics, it's the type of song that will figure in concert performances and at some point Adams will no doubt "electrify" it, the same applies to the classy "Chains of love".

Out of the five remaining tracks three in particular show that spark which previously made Adams the dominant figure in alt country. "Invisible Riverside" would have happily fitted on "Gold" and is a paean to contentment with Mandy Moore the new Mrs Adams. He starts with the reflection "Guess I'll show my hand/Either way I'm losing/You still have the goods/Back when I couldn't use them" and builds it a gorgeous country lament. The single "Lucky now" is probably more in tune with the tradition of great songs on Whiskeytown's "Pneumonia" such as "Dont wanna to know why" and ably steered by the great producer Glyn Johns. Finally the albums closer "Love you but I don't know what to say" is one of Adams best love songs in a very long time and destined to be covered by all and sundry in the Nashville community. Ashes & Fire is an appropriate title for this album since it is mostly a languid slow burn with songs that gently reveal more on every listen. Throughout Ryan Adams is in great voice and this work demonstrates that real discipline which has been lacking in some of his previous work although the strange critical consensus in some parts that he ceased making great music after Gold is in the words of General Norman Schwarzkopf a load of "bovine scatology". In the last analysis this A&F is a very fine record that hints at even greater possibilities something which all connoisseurs of real music should celebrate and offer a quiet hurrah.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 Jul 2012 12:29:29 BDT
J. HIGNELL says:
I was lucky enough to catch his Oxford gig (at the New Theatre, not the Playhouse), yes it was bloody hot but a very good show, thought Jessie Malin was pretty good too. This is definitely a return to form after several years either "retired" or with The Cardinals, as good as that band was he is a better solo artist giving him the freedom that being in a band doesn't give. Very good review of an excellent album. I was surprised that this did not make many of the top 50 albums of the year in the normal monthly magazines end of year reviews because for me it was easily one of the top 10 albums of 2011.
Still what do I know?
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