With Ryan Adams’ 13th studio album, Ashes and Fire, the only fire that listeners will encounter is the slow and steady burn of flames in a cozy fireplace. Adams has returned to the most basic forms of music and has presented an album dominated by stripped-down acoustic songs.
Ashes and Fire is not a particularly unique or groundbreaking album, but its mellow nature makes it perfect for a low-key night in. Even though many of the songs talk about heartbreak and pain, Adams’ heartfelt voice offers a feeling of ease. Through his simplistic melodies, listeners are engulfed in a calming mood of contentment.
With such a prominent overarching mood to the album, there can be some difficulty in differentiating the songs. The album opens with “Dirty Rain,” a heavily acoustic song that sets that pace for the rest of the album. The most upbeat song follows with “Ashes and Fire,” offering just enough of the unexpected to prevent the album from becoming too boring. For the rest of the album, there is some fluctuation between the songs, but for the most part their moods generally hover around soft and mellow.
Even though the guitar is the primary instrument in all of the songs on the album, there seems to be a lack of solos that truly highlight the instrument. The guitar stays in the background and is rarely anything more than an accompaniment to Adams’ voice. However, something that becomes noticeable, particularly toward the second half of the album, is the blending of voices. Adams doesn’t have a stellar voice or great range, but his ability to convey emotion is perfectly paralleled by that of his background singers. With her soft wispy voice complementing Adams’s stronger voice, Norah Jones is featured on several songs on the album such as “Kindness” and “Save Me” — the latter is arguably the rawest-sounding song on the album, and it also features Mandy Moore, Adams’ wife.
Ashes and Fire is undoubtedly more of a personal album than one of mass appeal. However, precisely because of this, it becomes something unique that can be appreciated by many listeners. Despite the fact that many of the songs have a dark and depressing tone, the underlying truth demonstrated by Adams is the fact that love can be the savior. He has been inspired by this newfound love which serves as the basis of Ashes and Fire.
Adams reminds us to step back from the hustle and bustle of the world, to slow down and take in the moment as it is. At the end of a stressful day, listening to Ashes and Fire is a great way to unwind. You can enjoy this simpler style of music and in doing so maybe even forget some of the more complicated aspects of life.