Ashes & Fire, by Ryan Adams
It is perhaps a bit unusual for someone to want to review albums by an artist after they have been canceled but that is the case for me. Upon hearing that Ryan Adams was in the news because he made a vague apology for some sort of wrongdoing to previous partners and was clean and sober, I thought it would be interesting to see if his body of work indicated the sort of self-destructive behaviors and tendencies towards relationship drama that would indicate that his problems were of longstanding nature. And sure enough, this album, the first of his I have listened to all the way through, not only provides some gorgeous and aching and longing music that deals with aging and responsibility and relationships, but also demonstrates the sorts of struggles that Ryan Adams is still dealing with nearly a decade after this album was released. Moreover, the album makes it clear that Ryan Adams really should be better regarded by the country music industry as this music is definitely country-adjacent if not country, but as his popularity has suffered it is unlikely that a great many people are seeking out this album despite its charms.
This album has eleven songs and is familiar to me only because “Chains Of Love” is a song that I have heard and enjoyed elsewhere. That song is at the midpoint of this song, which seems strange as it is one of the few songs that seems well-suited to radio play. This album as a whole is slow and somber and reflective and the best songs in it are when the pace quickens a bit and where Norah Jones plays her piano and where she and Mandy Moore do backup singing. For the most part, this album is filled with slow-tempo songs that call out for salvation (“Save Me”) and “Kindness,” reflect struggles with communication (“I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say”), promise a partner a safe place to be open (“Come Home”), reflect upon aging (“Lucky Now”), or look upon the aftermath of past mistakes (“Ashes And Fire”). A fair number of the songs reflect a discussion of creation as it relates to life and relationships, like “Dirty Rain,” “Rocks,” and “Invisible Riverside.” Only two singles were released from this album, “Lucky Now,” and it hit #38 on the rock charts and #1 on the AAA charts, with “Chains Of Love” as a good follow-up single that ended up reaching #15 on the AAA charts.
Overall, this is a somber and reflective album that appears to indicate a turning point in Adams’ career. If Adams has never been an artist whose wild abandon has been obvious or whose popularity was massive, this album marks a decision to carry on in the face of health problems that reflect aging (I too can identify with the hearing loss and tinnitis that the artist has suffered from for years) and focus on making “mature” music for an Adult Alternative audience. Of course, this has been his core audience from the beginning, so it is not as drastic a change as it might have been for an act who had done a better job at crossing over into mainstream popularity anyway. By and large, this album gives a sense of Ryan Adams as reflective and perhaps believing that he had done a better job of growing up and overcoming his struggles than was the case, given the way that he seems to revolve around the same problems over and over again in his music, which is a problem that Adams’ has with many other artists and does not detract from my own modest enjoyment of his music.