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Ryan Adams

Ashes & Fire (PAX-AM/Capitol)

Ryan Adams has not always exercised a lot of quality control over his relentless stream of releases, but “Ashes & Fire” follows a quiet period in his career. It’s his first album since disbanding the Cardinals and one of his best since his post-“Whiskeytown” debut, “Heartbreaker.” Like that album and the paired “Love Is Hell” EPs, “Ashes & Fire” is a down-tempo, mostly acoustic affair, focusing on soft, somber ballads.

Gently colored with strings, with organ from Benmont Tench of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, and with piano and backing vocals from Norah Jones, “Ashes” contains some of Adams’ most sincere and well-crafted songwriting and best singing. He co-opts the cadences of an old folk ballad on “Lucky Now” and slips into a tender falsetto on “I Love You but I Don’t Know What to Say” and “Rocks.” In the past, Adams could seem like a dabbler in different styles; on “Ashes,” he sounds focused and artistically renewed, phoenixlike.

Steve Klinge, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Spank Rock

Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is a Fucking Liar (Bad Blood)

Say what you will about the audacity of Tyler, the Creator, at least his album title could be printed in this paper. Spank Rock’s Naeem Juwan utilizes a rasp reminiscent of Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler in the total opposite direction, making well-produced temper tantrums out of porn rhymes. The beats scrap together Miami bass, rave, and booty rap, with the electro-sheen of the Aughts as an emulsifier.

But the album’s overall smear is punk as repulsion. Clever moments are few. “Hot Potato” has snap to it, and “Nasty” and “Energy” will make you shake it. Sacrificing energy for nastiness, the rest won’t even make you dance.

Dan Weiss, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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