Album | Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire

Great news for Ryan Adams fans who have grown tired of his attempts to become a) a rapper b) a metal-head or, more recently, c) invisible. The news is Ryan is back, acoustic guitar in hand and singing actual songs again.

But there’s bad news too. Ashes and Fire, as welcome as it is in theory, just isn’t one of his best. Now admittedly, someone with albums like Heartbreaker, Gold and Love Is Hell to his name has an unusually high benchmark.

Yet the most frustrating thing about this solo comeback (The Cardinals have, in no uncertain terms, been consigned to the history books) is that it’s everything you wanted him to do and it still doesn’t scratch the itch.

After the increasingly quirky website streams, the stoner Twitter chat and the diversion into poetry, there was a palpable feeling among fans that he should just pick up a six string and let the old magic flow. That’s certainly the intention, but while the sound is well judged and well played throughout, the lack of Adams’ ‘spark’ is palpable.

Heartbreaker took a similar sonic palette but gave it more teeth, a whole lot of wrecklessness and a nice line in spite. Here, it’s hard to escape just how safe tracks like ‘Rocks’ and ‘Invisible Riverside’ sound. Just when you’re about to tune out entirely, albeit to some very nice guitar strums and gentle piano lines, he jumps the shark with a song called ‘Kindness’. It’s lovely, it’s about kindness and it’s tasteful beyond belief. It’s also chronically boring.

It’s not that there is nothing that raises its head above the average – ‘Dirty Rain’ has a lovely melody and sounds like it’s been a standard for generations, ‘Come Home’ has the countryfied authenticity of his Jacksonville City Nights project and the closer ‘I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say’ is a proper little tear-jerker.

But the overall package is not enough, not for a writer as engaging and talented as Ryan Adams.

Words: Rory Dollard

You can watch the video for Ryan Adams’ ‘Lucky Now’ below.