For such a prolific artist, Ryan Adams has kept a surprisingly low profile since 2008's Cardinology. Last year's III/IV featured older material, and it's best to just forget Orion, his self-indulgent metal tribute, also released in 2010. Adams trades distortion for familiar twang on Ashes & Fire, and you can almost hear the fire in his belly roaring through songs like "Dirty Rain" and "I Love You but I Don't Know What to Say." The time off has done wonders for Adams' writing. Emotions run high here, with his voice quivering at the most revealing moments and Norah Jones blending in beautifully from time to time. Fans have been waiting years for another Heartbreaker. Ashes & Fire isn't it, but it doesn't have to be. It stands on its own as a terrific album and a triumphant return for Adams. — Eddie Fleisher
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