Album Review: Ryan Adams – ‘Ashes & Fire’

Forget the disintegration and the metal projects, this is a grand return to some very welcome 'Gold'-era form

While ‘Is This It’’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: ‘Gold’, [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] (‘Rock N Roll’) and Canadian metal band [a]Voivod[/a] (‘Orion’), interest began to fade. Ten years on, with few breaking out the party poppers for ‘Gold’, it appears it’s down to Adams himself to honour his greatest work– by releasing his best solo album in a decade.

Ashes & Fire’ is a stunning, stripped-back, heart-on-sleeve record that re-captures his irrefutable songwriting ability. On the intense ‘Come Home’, when he sings “Nobody has to cry to make it seem real”, his voice is leather-bound with authenticity. Sincerity has always been the bedrock of Adams’ music and, at times, you can practically hear the teardrops hitting the piano keys – none more so than on poignant ballad ‘I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say’.

Of course when dealing with strung-up emotions you can often get things wrong, and on ‘Rocks’, Adams merely sounds frustrated. There’s still some joy lurking in his bones, though. The title track is a countrified rock number, and ‘Dirty Rain’ is as sweet as cherry pie. In sound they’re also the closest songs here to his other great work, ‘Heartbreaker’.

For certain acts, looking back on their career can only serve to highlight their lacklustre present day approach, but ‘Ashes & Fire’ makes reflecting on Adams’ career seem futile. Nostalgia aside: this is an album worth celebrating now.

Jamie Crossan