Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire

Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire

Adams is as elegant as ever.

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It’s been a decade since Ryan Adams released ‘Gold’, his astonishing second album and magnum opus, but it still sounds as crisp and novel now as it ever did: the glib hooks of ‘New York, New York’, the expansive stride of ‘Nobody Girl’, the stirring ode to ‘Sylvia Plath’ and the hummable pop of ‘When Stars Go Blue’. But now is now – and the venerable country troubadour is sixteen albums into his career. ‘Ashes & Fire’, his latest, shows no signs of decline. It may even be his second best.

Those who attended Adams’ Barbican shows earlier this year will know that they were rather stripped back affairs – and this is the path the album takes: diaphanous, mellow and yearning. Very rarely do we catch a glimpse of anything other than an affable acoustic guitar, winding organ dash or reverberating double bass thrum. But with legendary knob-twiddler Glyn Johns (best known for his work with the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones) at the helm, finding the right approach to recording this minimal set-up was never going to be a problem. What’s more, there’s a glut of guest spots: Norah Jones coos sweetly on a number of tracks, whilst Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ organist Benmont Tench makes a showing on ‘Ashes & Fire’.

The straightforward country rock of opener ‘Dirty Rain’ sets us on a familiar course, but gruffer, more guttural vocals enter on ‘Ashes & Fire’. Things get dark. The beauteous ‘Come Home’ is soft and primitive. He croons: ‘Nobody has to hide the way that they feel’, before the rolling fretwork of slide and steel guitars entwines in a magnificent solo.

One standout is ‘Chains Of Love’, an ornate country ballad which recalls the Verve if covering ‘Harvest’-era Neil Young – but a lot, lot better than that comparison makes it sound. Another – which you’ll be familiar with already – is single ‘Lucky Now’ with its irresistible ‘ey-ey-ey’ sing-along. Meanwhile, ‘Invisible Riverside’ expounds on its title with the whimsy of its sinuous synths and moving closer ‘I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say’ engenders one last weep as his vocals reach their tonal apexes and string sections soar. It’s a fittingly forlorn end to an album in which you notice a distinct lack of optimism, but we don’t care. Here, Adams is as elegant as ever.