Monday, 10 October 2011

Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire


Ashes and fire have a mutual relationship, indeed a necessary one, and the inversion here of their normal sequence is possibly of interest. Is it for the cadence only? The stressed plural supports this, but also suggests remains of the burnt body – and I think we’re getting there – as well as the rising from this, and as my dictionary puts it, ‘to come into existence or popularity again’.

Married in 2009 and taking a two year break from music largely because of a chronic ear-infection [poles of feelings one hopes], Adams returns with this album of thoughtful and tender reflections on love and life, not igniting the listener, but with enough fire in its honesty and lyrical poetry to suggest a musical rebirth and reiteration of his popularity as a brilliant singer and songwriter.

The opening line to opening track Dirty Rain perhaps posits that hopeful sense of re-emergence, ‘Last time I was here it was raining/But it ain't raining anymore’ and the acoustic guitar strum and background organ certainly resurrect the signature Adams’ sound. It has a rising chorus which is positively uplifting. Title track Ashes & Fire is the most upbeat on an otherwise slow set, with a Dylanesque tinge in the singing, bar-room piano and snatch of electric guitar. Tracks 3 and 4, Come Home and Rocks, slow the pace down to the album’s overall norm. The former is a softly sweet homage to the safety and security of home, and more metaphorically the shelter of inherent love there, ‘Nobody has to cry to make it seem real/Nobody has to hide the way that they feel’: Adams’ frail vocal, the gentle female harmony and background pedal steel adding to the comforting serenity. The latter is just as tender with Adams’ vocal strained to falsetto and strings completing its wistful musing, ‘I am not rocks in the river/I am birds singing’.

6th Chains of Love picks up the pace a little and is another positive reflection on the power of love, even when it faces storms or comes to an end. 8th Save Me keeps things as real with a Neil Youngish lament touching on doubt in the midst of the album songs’ considerable certainty, ‘Like a breaking bell/Ringing like a sigh/What am I doing here?/What am I?’. All these tracks, and the remaining three, are definite growers, their subtleties and depths guaranteed to reveal themselves with each subsequent listening. Kindness is the 9th track and continues with this theme of affection conquering all, ‘Kindness don't ask for much /But an open mind/Kindness can cure a broken heart’. Acoustic guitar and organ again provide Adams' familiar musical foundation here.

The album ends ironically with I Love You But Don’t Know What To Say because of course its narratives have spoken so simply and with certainty, as here with the chorus sung in Adams’ yet again fragile vocal, ‘I promise you that I will keep you safe from harm /Love you the rest of my days /When the night is silent and we seem so far away /Oh I love you when I don't know what to say’. Piano and strings provide a dusting of accompaniment, and it is a beautiful ballad to draw this calm and candid album to a close.

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