M. Ward – [Album]

Monday, 23 February 2009

When you're a musician as prolific as M. Ward is, invariably there's going to be a running monologue that takes shape in your output but never before has the influence of the singer's prior releases (either on his own or with Zooey Deschanel as She & Him) manifested so plainly as it does on Hold Time. That doesn't mean that the singer's newest effort feels hastily assembled or like a set of discarded, sub-par tracks collected to capitalize on the songwriter's recent surge in popularity, only that there is an off-the-cuff vibe to these songs that is the sure mark of a musician that knows he's on stable artistic ground and doesn't feel compelled to knock out some ambitious statement. In fact, Hold Time feels like a conscious effort by Ward to bring his new audience up to speed on his story in progress as well as the ground he's covered so far.

In keeping with that motivation, there is no single stance that Hold Time takes but it remains compelling for the change in function. For the first time, Ward has simply allowed an album that bears his name to be a collection of really good, unrelated songs rather than a string of tunes with a consistent thread and, as a result, the record contains a wildly diverse (within the constraints set forth by previous efforts) collection that encapsulates where M. Ward has been before and where he's planning on going – at least for the moment. There are a few sounds here that fans will regard as “M. Ward staples" present (most notably that captivating spidery guitar style) but the apparitions of such classic institutions as Bob Dylan (whose “Time Out Of Mind” gets a passing glance in “Never Had Nobody Like You”), David Bowie and Iggy Pop (the first line of “For Beginners” name-drops Absolute Beginners” while lifting the beat from “Nightclubbing”) materialize here in a more distinct and noticeable manner than has ever happened before. In addition to that, Ward also employs more implicit sonic references to both rhythm & blues and the archetypal old country train track clickity-clack (in “Jailbird” and “Fisher Of Men” respectively) to colour the eleven original songs on the album and more markedly in the three covers (one each from Buddy Holly, Don Gibson and Frank Sinatra) that appear. In each case, Ward continues to develop his arresting mixture of folk, blues (the duet with Lucinda Williams, “Oh Lovesome Me,” is a small piece of ambrosia) and romantic dream pop that doesn't hold hard to any of those sounds in particular, but instead mixes equal measures of each and keeps listeners already smitten from first exposure glued to their stereos.

With the uninitiated brought up to speed and fans left in a trembling ecstasy from the warm and laidback reminiscence of “Shangri-La,” Ward finished sewing up all of the loose ends that he can lay his hands on with a spaghetti-western-flavored instrumental rendition of Sinatra's “I'm A Fool To Love You” and, while it's apparent there's a healthy dose of resignation contained in that “Outro,” there is also elation to be found  in Hold Time. As the record fades out, there is a warm feeling left in the bottom of even the most cynical listener's heart that the operation here was a success and Ward has purged the last of these feelings from himself. From here, he'll be free to move on to more ambitious endeavors and, when he does, this record has pretty much ensured that the number of listeners following along with baited breath will be far greater than it was prior to this album's release.


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Hold Time is available now. Buy it on Amazon .

“Never Had Nobody Like You” (feat. Zooey Deschanel) – [mp3]

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M. Ward Finds Time To Hold Time – [Feature]

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