Ryan Adams, “Ashes & Fire” (Pax-Am)
Ryan Adams’ always-fascinating liner notes continue to impress with his latest release, “Ashes & Fire.” In addition to the lyrics to each song, Adams also shouts out to all of the album’s contributors in his most recent notes.
On the ’70s-era AM-tribute “Kindness,” for example, Norah Jones contributes piano work – as she does throughout most of the album. And Jones also lends a backing vocal on the track, as does Adams’ celebrity wife, Mandy Moore.
We never thought we’d hear that – Triple A radio darling Jones and pop princess Moore backing up alt-country hero Adams. And that’s so much of his charm: While Adams is among the most prolific songwriters in the game, he’s also a master of the unexpected – and the band he pulled together for these sessions is as consistent as you’d expect with names such as Jones and Benmont Tench in the mix.
On the flipside of Adams’ prolific nature is the Inconsistent nature of his songwriting. A loose count racks up at least 11 Adams releases in the last decade since “Gold,” and while he’s still adored and revered, he’s also wildly unpredictable with his output.
With “Ashes & Fire,” Adams lyrics are as strong as they’ve been in the last five years – though he leans too hard on the sparse pop-folk ballad that has been his preference in recent years. A couple gems fill the end of the backloaded record – including the pensive, CD-ending “I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say” and the memorably melodic “Lucky Now.”
But much of the Glyn Johns-produced record also quietly falls into the same unmemorable territory. As Adams poetry works its magic, his acoustic guitar and Jones’ piano and Tench’s B3 Hammond covers ground that we’ve heard before. Song like “Chains of Love” try to break out of the mold, but it’s clear that Adams has found a comfortable place, and he’s not planning on leaving it anytime soon.
Evanescence, “Evanescence” (Wind Up)
Just how does Evanescence fit into the context of 2011? They don’t, really.
The group’s dated, ’90s rock aesthetics. Singer Amy Lee’s post-gothic tendencies. The albums’ overwrought, overdramatic production. Everything sounds about 10 years too late.
When “Fallen” hit in 2003, that breakthrough album even sounded a little late then – even though hits “Bring Me To Life” and “My Immortal” made stars out of the group. But the group has its vision, and even after the much publicized departure of guitarist Ben Moody, they’ve stayed faithful to that original sound.
With the band’s latest, its eponymous third studio record, Lee’s vocals are still intoxicating and potent (see “Erase This”), and the guitars still sound like they were torn straight from a Korn album (“Never Go Back”). But the band is taking a slightly more rhythmic approach with its first single, “What You Want,” and if you thought their earlier blends of rap-metal and pop balladry were strange, this slightly altered sound will take some getting used to.