Ryan Adams and us go way back. Erin was at the infamous show at the Ryman where he berated and then kicked out an audience member for shouting “Summer of ’69” as a song request. Erin and her sisters will admit to a perhaps unhealthy obsession with Mr. Adams circa 2001, a time period during which they partook in, among other things, stalking his tour bus in the parking lot of a Best Western at two in the morning.
We haven’t kept up with the pathologically productive Adams in all the years since. Once he started releasing three albums a year (2005), and switching back-up bands at the drop of a hat, we allowed ourselves a little Ry-Ry hiatus. There were good albums sprinkled through his post-Gold stretch — we fancied Jacksonville City Nights, and there was always at least one stellar track on his albums with The Cadinals — but mostly we were left to develop theories about how Mandy Moore had corrupted him, while secretly acknowledging that he’s not the type who needs any help with that.
Now, with Ashes & Fire, we are happy to report that Adams has returned to form, or at least the form we prefer, alt-country, not his most recent fascination, metal (as on Orion). The emphasis is back on Adams’s vocals, and tunes amble along pleasantly and effortlessly.
Here’s the thing about Adams, though — and it pains us to say this when we have admittedly obsessed over him in the past: He sure can be a lazy songwriter. “When The Stars Go Blue” is a gorgeous little song, but it doesn’t take that many listens to realize Adams is rhyming “blue” with “blue.” There are so many other words that rhyme with blue! Just off the top of our head, we can think of at least six: glue, zoo, new, hue, true and shoe. That took us, like, five seconds. And we are not famous musicians.
Consider just a sampling of the lyrics from Ashes & Fire:
I believe the sun still rises here
But when it falls
I’m not sure what there is to say
Everything you are to me is bigger than the spaces
Between me and the chains of lovexxx
Kindness don’t ask for much
But an open mind
Kindness can cure a broken heart
Honey, are you feeling kind?
Do you believe in love?
Do you believe in love?
We won’t even quote the lyrics from the final song on the album, titled “I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say.” (OK, we will: “When I met you/Clouds inside me parted/And all that light came shining through.”) With hackneyed lines like these, you’d be smart not to print the lyrics in your liner notes — at least Adams’s voice and the rootsy instrumentation distract you during the songs themselves. But when you print them, there they are in black and white, like Adams spent an afternoon wandering up and down the aisles at Hallmark. And then when he didn’t find the right cards, he came up with lyrics about not knowing what to say. (The first lyric quoted above — “I’m not sure what there is to say” — isn’t even from the song entitled, “I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say.”) We’re speechless too, Ryan. And now we’re going to put Heartbreaker back in.