Monday, October 3, 2011

Pssst: Ryan Adams rises above Ashes

Do yourself a favor. Put on a set of headphones and click here.

What you'll be doing is taking a beautiful trip through the gentle peaks and valleys of Ashes and Fire, the latest -- and possibly the greatest album yet -- from Ryan Adams. This is a First Listen freebie from NPR, so enjoy the ride. Don't let yourself be interrupted.

We've been fans of Adams since his barnstorning alt-country days with Whiskeytown. Come to think of it, that may have been our problem. While nursing the hangover that was the breakup of our favorite band, we were slow to embrace Adams' early solo work, good as it was.  Part of our hesitation was the troubled artist's tendency to self-destruct while he was churning out a confounding catalog of music --  some of it very good, but just too damn much of it.  Does that make any sense? We wouldn't have been surprised by a tragic outcome.

Happy to say, with Ashes and Fire, everything has come into focus. We've gone from fans to disciples, and we need to start by thanking Adams, who appears to have grown more as a person than an artist during his two-year hiatus. He already had the songwriting and musicianship down.  What happened to him?  Life lessons and love. He fell in love, really fell in love, as the writing in Ashes and Fire clearly reveals. We don't believe you can write "I Love You But I Don't Know What to Say" without discovering answers about life and love along the way.

I was lost I was lost
I tried to find the balance and got caught up in the cost
I let it go when I met you
The clouds inside me parted and all that light came shining through

I promise you I will keep you safe from harm
Love you all the rest of my days
When the night is silent and we seem so far away
Oh I love you but I don't know what to say

Adams, who is now married and finally clean, also had to deal with a painful inner-ear affliction that made music-making virtually impossible. We're sure it's all much more complicated than that, but the results are crystal clear. Ashes and Fire, produced by Glyn Johns and due out Oct. 11, is one of the best albums we've heard this year. It's going up on the big board as Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout (PSSST) No. 25.

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