Ryan Adams spent most of the past decade making the kind of musically uncharacteristic albums that a less sympathetic record label would sue him for — though, as his own occasional label, he couldn’t very well sue himself. To extend the Neil Young metaphor, Ashes & Fire is his Freedom (minus the rock anthems): a classic-model, acoustic-based, country-tinged singer/songwriter album, just the kind that his less patient fans have been holding out for. His recent marriage to Mandy Moore likely inspired the disc’s love-and-redemption theme, and his bout with ear disease partly explains the lack of volume. But above all, the impression remains that Adams is a first-division craftsman — one who knows how to swing enough melody and vary the arrangements sufficiently to keep a mellow album from becoming a sleepy one. (And the Neil Young parallels continue, as Norah Jones turns up on “Come Home” to add harmonies that smack of Nicolette Larson.) Fans of Adams’s Cardinals phase will likely miss the jam-band elasticity, but by now it’s clear that none of his phases are for keeps, so there’s no reason not to enjoy this one.
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.