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What I’m listening to this week: M. Ward

May 25, 2009

Hold Time – 2009

I’m back, bay-bee!  We made it home safe and sound from Sin City and I’m glad to be back at the blogging game.  Just waiting for it to stick one of these days…

Anyway, the task at hand and a hopeful new start!  This week I’m starting off with a review of Hold Time, M. Ward‘s latest album.  I’m a fan of M. Ward’s dedication to his particular musical style.  His albums are evocative of a Grapes of Wrath-era scene of the California landscape, with his affected lo-fi rasp and throaty grit, and music that sounds dusty and old, but in a good way.  His forte is for nostalgia; classic textbook songwriter tunes that recall Hank Williams in their ability to capture complex human emotions in simplistic and often insightful ways, only with the necessary modern instrumentation.  And when M. Ward succeeds, the rewards are sweet.

He reminds of you this with the first two lines of the first track on Hold Time, “For Beginners (Aka Mt. Zion)”: “When you’re absolute beginners, it’s a panoramic view”, a line that you could ponder long enough to need to listen to the track twice.  “Never Had Nobody Like You” featuring Zooey Deschanel is like the electric upswing of 2006’s ” Chinese Translation” from Post-War, while likewise, the title tracks “Post-War” and “Hold Time” are the soft and gorgeous reflective songs of their respective albums.  The other Zooey Deschanel guest spot on Hold Time is “Rave On”, a laconic, sun-drenched act of seduction, but “Oh, Lonesome Me”, a piano and guitar ballad with a raggedy vocal from Lucinda Williams, gets almost too sleepy.

I think M. Ward is at his best when he’s at his most simple.  The dream-like instrumental, “Outro”, and the lyrically poetic “Blake’s View” and “Fisher Of Men”, speak honestly to M. Ward’s roots as an accomplished indie singer-songwriter.  Overall, Hold Time isn’t quite as successful as Post-War, if only for the reason that Post-War came first and many of the same song themes and stylings carried over.  Several songs on Hold Time could have easily appeared on Post-War and for that reason, Hold Time is a little incongruous.  It seems that M. Ward is continually struggling skyward due to his new-found widespread fame, yet is still being pulled into his comfort zones.  Once he settles into that new place, M. Ward is destined to create a truly classic album.

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