Posted on February 18th, 2009 (11:09 am) by Sean Morrissey

You may not think it right off, but 2008 was quite a successful year for M. Ward. His collaboration with singing starlet Zooey Dechanel resulted in She and Him’s Volume 1 being one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year. Volume 1 also saw Ward sitting behind the boards, not only helping to arrange and compose the surprise hit, but producing it as well. With the group already in talks for a Volume 2 in the near future, Ward has found just enough time to release a brand new album of his own, Hold Time.

With Hold Time, M. Ward continues to keep the embers burning over his small backyard tire fire of American folk rock. In many ways this album preserves a distinctly domestic sound, that of highway rolling out under the hot Arizona sun. From the Eagles to Jerry Lee Lewis, all permutations of Americana are heard through his deep tenor voice and tempo’d folk guitar.

“Never had nobody like you” is a Marc Bolan–inspired honkytonk sing-a-long, with heavy guitar fuzz and echoed drums blended brilliantly against Ward’s slow drawl. It is a lesson in bar-band etiquette and the sounds of a great time set to music. Many of Hold Time’s 14 tracks keep this mood moving along, reminiscent of the band in the bar singing songs of jailbirds, love gained, and loves lost.

The album’s title track “Hold time” provides a beautiful counterpoint to the more ragged sound of “Never had nobody like you.” This slow ballad carries with it a fresh melody and heavy string arrangements. Ward’s delivery is breathy and delicate, befitting of lyrics such as, “I wrote this song about it cause I didn’t care about anyone in this photograph.” It’s a soft simplicity that hits the mark, even when you have to run to the lyrics page to make it all out.

As was true with She and Him, Ward is not afraid to explore the often feared world of the cover song. This release includes Buddy Holly’s golden oldie “Rave on” as well as Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me.” On “Oh Lonesome Me” Ward enlisted the help of folk music legend Lucinda Williams. The song is a slow rolling steel guitar fused gem that is quite likely the brightest star in Hold Time’s night sky. Ward’s vocal is in its prime, both low and delicate at the same time, with Lucinda’s gravelly voice a terrific complement. Williams’ contribution breathes a great deal of color into the song, making it unforgettable. Other collaborators scattered throughout Hold Time include Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, Tom Hagerman of DeVotchka, and She and Him’s better half, Zooey Deschanel.

My sole issue with Hold Time is that when the “outro” has reached its end and the album is over, no single track stands out in my mind as the knock-you-on-your-ass song of the year. The album moves through the tracks without flaw or fault, but sometimes the oomph! just isn’t there; the album feels lacking in dimension or color. Whether it would take a jump to a higher register or a radio-ready hook I can’t say, but the impact of Hold Time is still lost in my own musical limbo. Highlights like the aforementioned “Oh Lonesome Me,” and the country ditty-bop “Shangri-La” help, but it’s difficult to say how much. I still can’t say that Hold Time holds my interest in the same way 2006’s Post-War did. M. Ward is a man with a wide ranging palette of talents, though sometimes he seems reluctant to let them all show through. When all is said done, if you were looking for the centerpiece of M. Ward's musical career, Hold Time will leave you holding out for more. That said, the record, when at its best, manages to shine as a prime example of what this Portaland-based folk musician can do.

Track List

1. For Beginners (2:48)
2. Never had Nobody Like You (2:26)
3. Jailbird (2:32)
4. Hold Time (3:05)
5. Rave on (3:36)
6. To Save Me (3:02)
7. One Hundred Million Years (2:12)
8. Stars of Leo (3:18)
9. Fisher of Men (3:13)
10. Oh Lonesome Me (6:06)
11. Epistemology (3:50)
12. Blake’s View (2:30)
13. Shangri La (2:20)
14. Outro (3:47)

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M. Ward: Hold Time
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

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