My favorite album of 2011 has this glorious California feeling all over it. Ashes and Fire is an album that you need to experience while driving in Los Angeles. And it’s no accident that Ashes has a West Coast aura as Ryan Adams explained to Clash Magazine UK when he said, “I feel the songs were still dealing with the ghosts of some failure of New York. It had been two or three years since I had written, I had moved to the West Coast, and so New York is kind of like ever-present on this record. As my geographical and spiritual home it’s present, and it appears as the past on the record. There’s a song like ‘Do I Wait’, where I feel like the ghosts of past relationships are there.”
We all have ghosts that appear in our thoughts, day dreams and sleep but unlike most people, Ryan Adams writes song about his ghosts. But living in California helped Adams craft songs that eventually sparked the completion of Ashes and Fire as Ryan discussed when he said, “I feel like I was a ghost on this record, looking at the world, looking at myself; it felt ghostly to make it. Living in California is like disappearing for me. The way like New York is exhausting, California is restorative, but it’s restorative that there isn’t as many friends for me there. Nature is more present. But going through these changes, letting go of music was like a trust fall. I became a normal guy and went to California for a year and a half and was not playing guitar. I was a stranger to myself so when I did play again I felt like I was starting again.”
The thing that you will feel while listening to Ashes & Fire is how calm and relaxed Ryan Adams sounds singing about the ghosts from his past that inspired these very illuminating tracks. Ryan talked about the theme of the songs On Ashes when he said, “The tranquility of this record could be undermined very easily by the perception of the lyrics. There is a duality in all of them and it’s that natural duality that makes a song like I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say, Chains Of Love or my favorite song, Do I Wait — there’s lines in that song that could also speak to someone who felt caught up in the chains of love, confused by it.”
“Do I Wait?” sounds like one of those hushed midnight conversations you have with a loved one with one of you standing in the dark and the other listening under the flickering light. I love the fact that we don’t know whether it’s a dark or sparked conversations. The genius behind Ryan Adams best songs is that he allows us to fill in the blanks with what we reflect best and feel. While I thought songs like “Do I Wait?” were about past paramours it sounds like Ryan is singing to his now deceased Grandmother whom he dedicated Ashes & Fire to, as he explained, when he said, “More of the songs have to do with my Gran passing, the love for her or the missing love or the links that were starting to disappear. I grew up with her so it was a difficult time for me but it helped shape some of the sentiments and songs. I had a good time with that as a subject and there’s a bitter-sweet element. I’m saying love is really precious because you can’t hold it. It will fall apart.”
Whoever inspired songs like “Do I Wait?” the result from Ashes & Fire is Ryan Adams best solo album since 2004’s Love is Hell. We love what we hear, especially on “Do I Wait?” This is because, Adams hasn’t sounded this confident and sweetly honest on vinyl in years. Ryan talked about his new found creative serenity when he said, “I just want to make as much music as possible and get out there and play. I like playing by myself. I think being solo is perfect. Yes it’s harder as I have to be on it. There’s nothing to hide behind. It’s me, my songs and my bare soul.”
Here’s hoping, Ryan Adams doesn’t keep us waiting for his next California inspired sound excursions. There’s no question about this tender beauty; As Ryan sings, he perfectly reflects the ash and fire of love in the lyrical guise that is “Do I Wait.”
P.S. We urge you to track down the acoustic Live After Deaf renditions of “Do I Wait?” Believe it or not, the live in Copenhagen and Lisbon rival the original from Ashes & Fire. Available as downloads at an MP3 store near you.