The last Ryan Adams and the Cardinals record made me very sad. An artist who I have loved and respected for a long time had, to my ears, finally caved in to his inconsistencies and become crap. Ever since ‘Gold’ there has always been a mixed reaction to Ryan Adams music. I am not sure whether the blame should be levelled at Adams himself for, what often appears, an overly excessive volume of output – which, granted, has slowed pace of late – or whether due to his unquestionable talent there have been unrealistic expectations placed on him by fans and critics alike. I also think that opinion is often divided from album to album. For example, I love ‘29’ whilst others think it’s one of his poorer efforts and yet whilst I cannot get into ‘Jacksonville City Nights’ or ‘Easy Tiger’ others I know think these are excellent records. Nope, for me, since ‘Demolition’ – ‘Love is Hell’, ‘Cold Roses (disc 1)’ and ‘29’ are the records which are stand outs. The others just have a few good songs but nothing to write home about. And then came his last offering with the Cardinals which, for somebody like me who was falling out of love with his music and losing faith, was pretty much the final nail in the coffin.
Or so I thought.
‘Ashes and Fire’ never quite reaches the highs of Adam’s at his very best. However, it is without doubt the best thing he has done for many a year. And it washes away the bad taste that was left in my mouth from his previous offering. It’s kind of like he remembered how to write a good song. And it feels so good to reconnect with his music. I am in no doubt that this has a lot to do with the prominence of acoustic guitar and piano on this record.
Although the intro to album opener ‘Dirty Rain’ sounds idneitcal to ‘Sweet Carolina’, once the album settles down there are some amazing songs to soak up and get lost in. ‘Come Home’, ‘Do I Wait’, ‘Save Me’, ‘Kindness’ and ‘I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say’ to name a few standouts. There really are some gems on this record. What’s more important though is that there are no duds. None. Making this, for me, the most consistent piece of music that Ryan Adams has produced since disc 1 of Cold Roses.
Perhaps Adam’s problem has been his volume of output over the years. Perhaps it has been unrealistic expectation placed on him by doting fans and critics alike. Whatever the reason for his inconsistencies, when he produces something this good all can be forgiven and we can remember what it is that made us fall in love with his music in the first place. The simple fact of the matter is that on this form Ryan Adams is unquestionably brilliant. It therefore seems like Ryan Adams lives in a bit of a vicious circle. He produces something brilliant, raises expectations, becomes inconsistent and wayward, annoys fans and critics, pushes people to the point of despair, then, just as people are giving up he goes and produces something brilliant again and raises expectations for the next record. Let’s hope the cycle does not repeat and the next record takes him to another level of brilliance. I know he can do – if he can be bothered.
In the meantime, check out ‘Ashes and Fire’ when you can. Enjoy.