Words: Elaine Buckley
It's been a rocky road for Ryan Adams to reach this point in his career. A decade ago, he was heralded as the new superstar of the alt-country genre - departing Whiskeytown to release his solo debut Heartbreaker to widespread critical acclaim and commercial success, with follow-up Gold proved similarly successful. Several others followed, both solo efforts and collaborations with long-time backing band The Cardinals - but somewhere along that line of success it all started to go wrong, as vices overpowered his talent and hindered his music towards what was seemingly a point of no return. Now, he's back - and back to his best. His obscure metal effort of 2010 barely registered, but thankfully Ashes & Fire portrays a rejuvenated Ryan Adams, and a welcome return to his roots which will no doubt delight long-time fans.
Ashes & Fire was recorded in a studio with Adams built out of old equipment used in famous moments of pop history - including a Motown recording console, old microphones belonging to Elvis Presley's engineer, and a mixing desk that was once used by both The Beatles and The Doors. And with legendary producer Glyn Johns at the helm, the attention to detail is evident even upon the initial listen. The countrified rock arrangement on the album opening title track is instantly charming, and similarly on 'Dirty Rain'. Lead single 'Lucky Know' makes an excellent calling-card for the album in its entirety, all of its attractive elements condensed into three magnificent minutes. Adams admirably doesn't shy away from sharing the details of the infamous hazy existence he led for several years - and Ashes & Fire sees the troubled troubadour in reflective mode, examining his wilder times with a renewed calm and sense of maturity. 'Save Me' speaks for itself; and he practically dares you not to be moved by 'Come Home', a song which possesses a truly intense beauty. Lest we forget, Adams has encountered true love in recent times - and although he hasn't acknowledged that the album is fully autobiographical, the achingly beautiful soliloquy-esque 'I Love You But I Don't Know What To Say' undeniably alludes to his marriage to singer and actress Mandy Moore.
If Ashes & Fire has one major fault, it's that it has a set mood which it very much sticks to - there's a danger that if it were put on in the background, it could get lost there. But each repeat listen affords a new layer of meaning - so give it some time, and you won't be disappointed. Heart-on-sleeve authenticity, poignancy and sincerity - Ashes & Fire signals a triumphant return for Ryan Adams.