Ryan Adams, 'Ashes & Fire' (Pax-Am/Capitol)

7
Ashes & Fire
Critical Mass
Release Date: October 11, 2011
Label: Pax-Am/Capitol

by Stacey Anderson

After going certifiably loopy on last year's III/IV, a "double-album concept rock opera," the alt-country bard goes for the diametric opposite on this gentle crop of pared-down roots-rock ballads full of fitfully earnest emotions. Lead single "Lucky Now" literally revels in Adams' newfound reformation -- "Love can mend your heart, but only ?if you're lucky now," he sings with wizened nonchalance atop flickers of piano.And he puts that mature foot forward consistently on this record, from gorgeously spare harmonies with Norah Jones on "Kindness" to the barely audible twangs of guitar on "Come Home." He's purely elegant throughout.

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