Last week while we were waiting for Bhi Bhiman to show up at Handwritten, Rick and I were talking about some new albums coming out, and we got on the topic of Ryan Adams. Adams has been a thorn in my side for a long time. Possibly the worst live show I’ve ever seen. He’s tremendously talented, and every once in a while he puts it on display. More often, though, he buries his talent in music that bores me to tears, like his last solo release Easy Tiger.
To that point, Ashes And Fire is a step forward in my relationship with the singer/songwriter. It’s not a great album by any means. I’d put Gold and Heartbreaker above it, and probably Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights as well. The album has some good stuff on it, but it finds Adams covering all-too-familar ground. I wish he would take a step back and put out something entirely different than what he’s been doing for the last decade. I know he has vaults on his website where he posts black metal songs and other weird things that he’s working on. Why not follow through with that instead of giving us another indistinguishable Ryan Adams album?
The songs that I do really like are “Dirty Rain,” “Do I Wait,” and “I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say.” None of these stray too far from the rest of the pack, but they have something, either lyrically or musically, that stands out. For the most part Adams seems to be reclaiming his ownership of the “Mr. Indie-Country” title. At the very least he knows what he’s good at and how to stick to it. After two years away it’s nice to get some new material, regardless of the quality. I just wish he had spent that time reflecting on what his legacy will be.
He’s grown up a lot personally over the last decade, going from rock brat to true artist. But his musical growth hasn’t kept up. Any of these songs could have been B-sides for his older records. A problem, I suppose, with profundity is that eventually you run out of new things to say. Yet I find myself looking forward to Adams releases just to see if he can prove me wrong, that there is still something new and original in his brain just waiting to be unleashed. Ashes And Fire is not that release.