Release Date: Feb 17, 2009
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative, Singer-Songwriter
“'Cause I just roll and I tumble / Down the long road I stumble. . .
Critics hailed his 2006 album, Post-War, but Portland singer-songwriter M. Ward is more famous as half of the feathery kitsch-pop duo She & Him, his recent pairing with doll-faced actress Zooey Deschanel. On his own, Ward is far more earthbound, but it’s a singularly lovely kind of weight. And Hold Time does, in fact, feel timeless, a musical wanderer’s dusty, train-hopping tour through folk, blues, and country.
If there's anyone a budding musician should aspire to emulate, it's M. Ward. By carefully honing his craft with each album, the California-based singer/songwriter has slowly built up one of the most engaging bodies of work around. [rssbreak]. His latest disc could be his best yet. While it has Ward ….
On his 2003 breakthrough album, The Transfiguration of Vincent, M. Ward presented us with an album so personal and deep with feeling, so imbued with heartache and loss, and led by a singer and guitarist that can project a beautiful sound while staying curled up in himself, that it could be as difficult to listen to as it was to ignore. Transistor Radio showed Ward opening up a little, become less a conduit for his sound and more a performer of it.
M. Ward's fifth proper album begins appropriately with the lyric "When you're absolute beginners, it's a panoramic view," a notion that the dusty Portland, OR-based singer/songwriter must be nostalgic for as his profile increases with each and every project. His 2008 collaboration with actress/singer/songwriter Zooey Deschanel as the producer, player, and arranger of She & Him helped to let the rest of the world in on what the low-key folk underground has been savoring since 2001's End of Amnesia.
M.Ward has always been an artist who has been able to remind us of the bittersweet paradoxes of life in his work. On his 2003 breakthrough album, The Transfiguration of Vincent, Ward made an album so personal and imbued with such loss and loneliness that one’s own heart ached listening to it but at the same time, he was able to reveal both beauty and hope in his songs. In fact Ward’s music often seems to come from that rare and perfect place of a songwriter in which joy and misery are allowed to mingle, laughter follows tears and faith and doubt are able to be reconciled.
Him goes back to solo for pleasant but uneven record"Everybody’s goin’ out / Havin’ fun / I’m a fool for stayin’ home / Havin’ none,” Matt Ward sings on his cover of Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me.” production (Jenny Lewis’ Rabbit Fur CoatJacket, Norah Jones, Bright Eyes) and a critically acclaimed side project (She & Him). So it makes sense that Hold Time comes almost three years after Ward’s last solo effort, the excellent Post-War. It’s the longest it’s taken the Oregonian to follow-up an album.
Timelessness is the ambition of most musicians but out of all genres that fear time-stamping, folkies quiver the most. A trite guitar lick or lyrical reference can be the bane of the Fleet Foxes and Bonnie “Prince” Billies of the world. Counting Portland, Oregon’s M. Ward among the bunch is not a stretch.
So busy with his extracurricular commitments these days – notably as the male half of She & Him and as a production aide for the likes of Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis – Matt Ward’s own solo career almost feels like it’s the side-project, not the day-job. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however; as it has allowed Ward to both develop his muse piecemeal without over-exposure and to call in favours from his higher-profile collaborators. It’s a modus operandi that Ward builds on strongly, if somewhat awkwardly, for this sixth album.
M. Ward's dusky drawl now carries all the comfort and familiarity of his threadbare sweaters. Yet for all the vintage analog atmosphere, the Portland, Ore., songwriter's sixth album continues to expand his Americana template with more of the classic AM pop sensibilities shown on 2006's Post-War and flooding last year's Zooey Deschanel collaboration, She & Him.
M. Ward spent the last couple of years wrapping Zooey Deschanel’s simple songs in mild complication. His arrangements were the most interesting thing about (the not especially interesting) She & Him, and perhaps the acclaim for that duo got under his skin. Why spend time honing an eccentric, original voice, after all, when the world mostly wants pretty girls singing tasteful, inoffensive background music? In any case, as he returns to his own material, a bit of She’s blandness seems to have seeped over.