Album review: M Ward

Hold Time

Facts about this album:

M Ward has guested on recordings by Cat Power, Beth Orton, The Court & Spark, Bright Eyes, Jenny Lewis (whose debut solo album Rabbit Fur Coat he co-produced), and My Morning Jacket.

M Vard’s cover of David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ is featured on the soundtrack of the 2007 New Zealand film Eagle vs Shark.

“Amazing Grace’ is M Ward’s favourite ever song

Album review:

For nigh-on a decade now, a tiny butterfly has been flapping its wings in Portland. With each flutter a new record gets made and, year upon year, a fresh band of followers pick up on its gentle wave. As time goes by, the likes of Cat Power, Bright Eyes and My Morning Jacket seek out the commotion like a chattering Greek chorus. Actress Zooey Deschanel flutters her own wings in unison for a while. Before you know it, even Brit-miser Noel Gallagher is assigning a rare appreciative nod amid the rise and fall of his lilting cadence… yet the tornado never quite hits.

This doesn’t matter, though: Matt Ward (for the tiny butterfly is he) simply carries on making his music, and (seven albums on) an ever-dedicated select few carry on loving it. Then something happens: a 2004 appearance on The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn prompts Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst to explode, “M Ward for President!” prompting Newsweek, among others, to run a piece on him. M Ward responds two years later, with ‘Post-War’, asking the question no-one else was prepared to ask: where was America now?

Three years on and it seems serendipitous that new album track ‘Rave On’, a song made iconic by Buddy Holly in 1958, marks Barack Obama’s Presidential inauguration in 2009 like a glorious tickertape parade. The jubilance is pre-empted on ‘Hold Time’ with the glam-rocker ‘Never Had Anybody Like You’, as the unmistakable syncopated beat-intro smoulders like a cross between T.Rex’s ‘Ride A White Swan’ and Gary Glitter’s ‘Rock And Roll’. Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’’ tin-echoes are soon reinvented on ‘Fisher Of Men’, before jubilation makes way for the familiar melancholic-pop that so defines M Ward.

As the confetti settles on ‘Jailbird’, the self-doubt creeps in underneath the infectious acoustic melody which warbles precariously, “Jailbird singing through the wire/’Cos his cage is closed and he’s stuck inside/Who’s going to hear my ‘Help me’ now?” Enter deal-breaking title-track ‘Hold Time’, which is (and let’s not understate things here) a career-defining ballad even on its own, masterfully striking “You were beyond comprehension tonight/But I understood…” And as William Blake’s poetics are conjured beyond ‘The Grave’, what better way to rub salt in the post-Bush wound than to cover Don Gibson’s ‘Oh Lonesome Me’, barely touched since Neil Young masterfully defined its sense of abandonment on 1970’s ‘After The Goldrush’?

As we said, there’s a butterfly flapping its wings and if you listen closely you can hear it flutter. Isn’t it about time that tornado hit? Kat Lister

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