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Album review: Ryan Adams' 'Ashes & Fire'

October 11, 2011 |  6:02 am

Album review: Ryan Adams' 'Ashes & Fire'

Beyond Ryan Adams’ well-documented personal life — his marriage to Mandy Moore; his battle with the hearing disorder Meniere’s disease — lies the fleshy heart and soul of a brilliant singer and songwriter. His fragile lyrics and his voice, sounding strong and clear, better than it has in years, twist into a perfect union on “Ashes & Fire.”

Still scrappy and floppy-haired at 36, Adams has released almost one album a year since leaving alt-country band Whiskeytown a decade ago, starting with his first solo album, 2000’s “Heartbreaker.” “Ashes & Fire” recalls the best of “Heartbreaker,” except inverted, matured. Instead of strumming acoustically about the shreds of a relationship, he sings softly and nostalgically about distant youth and a love-filled future: its hopefulness, its vulnerability.

Ballads “Lucky Now” and “Invisible Riverside” have the kind of clamped-to-your-brain melodies that drift into territory worthy of ’70s classics. “Chains of Love” is upbeat, with an orchestral kick. Norah Jones’ piano fills in the gaps on several songs, alongside his wife’s harmonies and keyboard by Tom Petty right-hand Benmont Tench. The smoothness of producer Glyn Johns (Bob Dylan, the Band) can be felt everywhere. “I Love You But I Don’t Know What to Say” actually says it all, with words that set your eyes close to tears: “I promise you/ I will keep you safe from harm.”

Embedded in a world of crashing, pounding pop music, Adams’ solo rawness brings with it sweet release.

Ryan Adams
"Ashes & Fire"
PAX-AM / Capitol
Four stars (Out of four)

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— Solvej Schou

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