Ashes & Fire

Which Ryan Adams is it this time? Crazed punk provocateur? Uncloseted metal fan? Classic-rocker? Happily, it's the latter, in a largely unplugged mode. Out is his twangy backing band, the Cardinals, and in is an A-list pickup team, with Tom Petty veteran Benmont Tench on keyboards and Norah Jones on piano and harmonies. The mood is quietly apocalyptic: "Let the needle move the record round/Until the walls cave in," Adams sings in "Dirty Rain," one of a number of beautifully weary human-wreckage surveys. The hush on this mellow set may be due in part to Adams' recent hearing problems. Either way, it proves he doesn't need noise to blow you away.

Listen to "Lucky Now":

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From The Archives Issue 1141: October 13, 2011