Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire

by Dan Clay Rating:7.5 Release Date:2011-10-10

Though he may have hinted (like several high-profile film directors) that he was going to quit his day job, thankfully Ryan Adams has gone back to doing what he does best and treated fans to his most stripped-back acoustic offering since 2000's Heartbreaker.

With Norah Jones on backing vocals, each of the 11 songs on Ashes & Fire showcases Adams' knack for soft, reflective alt-country stirrings; something fans have yearned for for over a decade. In that time he's experimented with a much rockier sound (Rock N Roll, Orion) put out several albums with his band The Cardinals, and given us one of the best albums of the last decade in 2001's Gold. Can he capture that magic again?

For the most part, Ashes & Fire is a melodic continuation of the acoustic sound that typifies Adams himself, something Easy Tiger demonstrated so well, and these new songs fit well back-to-back with that album. Opener '

' easily stand alongside his best work.

However, despite the presence of some very strong tracks, Ashes & Fire is slightly let down by a sense of the unremarkable. There's little here in terms of lyrics, melody and chord sequence that Adams hasn't done better before. Though the pleasing gospel stirrings of 'Kindness' and heartfelt ballad 'I Love You But I Still Don't Know What to Say' are worthy efforts, you're only reminded how much better 'Come Pick Me Up' and 'The Rescue Blues' sound.

Still, even a slightly coasting Adams is worth a listen and Ashes & Fire is better than that. But much like Bright Eye's Conor Oberst, you can't help but feel that taking more time between varying outputs (he too releases albums with a backing band or two) would result in a stronger set of songs and a more complete album.

A collaboration between them though would be a real firecracker

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