[12 October 2011]
It’s with great fanfare that Ryan Adams’ highly anticipated new album, Ashes and Fire, is released this week. The past two years have found Adams basking in the glow of marriage to Mandy Moore (who makes some guest appearances on this album), conquering some damaging dependencies, and struggling to combat Meniere’s disease. A few years before that, a stage fall and subsequent wrist injury forced him to completely relearn the guitar. So, needless to say, life is never dull for Adams, and he is back with a sparsely elegant album full of the acoustic balladry that has taken him about as far into rock stardom one can get these days.
This ‘50s inspired black and white video that accompanies first single, “Lucky Now”, finds Adams alternating between periods of brooding introspection while performing the song and then later navigating the vintage boulevards of a throwback Los Angeles in a fine looking classic car while being suspiciously eye-balled by a group of tatted-up, letter jacket clad cuties. The “Fire” of the album’s title is well-represented as both the burner on the stove and the fire in the fireplace is left alone to engulf Adams’ house in flames as he dismissively leaves through the front door. What’s less unclear is whether the gal pack from the street, wracked by vengeful thoughts, is partially responsible for the arson. Regardless, the imagery suits the regretful longing of the song’s tone well, and Adams’ voice is in fine form throughout.
The lyrics aren’t the best Adams has to offer on Ashes and Fire, but the song strongly plays to his strengths as an economical acoustic troubadour, a hat he’s worn well over recent releases. And speaking of hats, with its subject matter and chorus of “Ehhhh’s”, the song bears a resemblance to someone with whom Adams is usually not compared, Lyle Lovett and his 1996 standout, “Private Conversation”. Take a gander and see for yourself…
Next, is a solo acoustic studio performance of another Ashes and Fire track, “Invisible Riverside”. Here, we have Adams at his stark finest: intricately strumming his acoustic and ardently singing, devoid of any lush arrangements or amped-up production. In fact, the video itself is grainy and murky, perhaps intentionally delivered to represent a “fly on the wall” moment of insight into an artist’s world.
The song itself is an album standout and reveals a great deal of the roughly hewn, high and lonesome edges in Adams’s music, deftly reflected in previous incarnations like “Come Pick Me Up”, “Carolina Rain” and “Tennessee Square”. Adams’ no-frills performance also suits him well, as the emotions and sentiments are given time and space to resonate, especially around the 3:45 mark, when Adams wails: “So, don’t let go / Don’t change your mind / Stars fall into the Oceanside.” This is the manner in which Adams will be performing this fall on his brief upcoming tour and the style has always been an honest and genuine form of expression. Here, he sings with a confidence and belief that is both convincing and infectious, inspiring not only validation for a great effort put forth but also encouragement to join Adams on a ride through the remainder of the album, a ride that does not disappoint.