M. Ward – Hold Time

February 19, 2009

mwardWhen I first heard M. Ward’s take on blues and folk music at the beginning of the decade, I was struck by its often otherworldly quality, music that one might’ve been pulled down during a séance. It was haunting, lyrical and a bit eerie at times. Eight years later, Ward’s music still has those qualities from time to time, though he’s mostly left any lo-fi feel it once had behind him awhile back, which isn’t a bad thing. It is worth remarking on, however, as Hold Time is his most elaborately produced album yet, with copious strings and some synths layered over the usual electric and acoustic guitars. The title track even pushes the latter two into the background, to nice effect. The tone is generally pretty weighty, with a number of the tracks directly addressing spiritual and existential issues, i.e. “Fisher Of Men” and “Epistemology.” There are some fun tracks, too, notably “Never Had Nobody Like You” with its glam rock beat, and a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On,” both tracks duets with She & Him collaborator Zooey Deschanel. And then there’s the insanely catchy “To Save Me,” done with Jason Lyle. (The fourth duet is the less successful cover of “Oh Lonesome Me” with Lucinda Williams.) All in all, this is a pretty solid release for Ward, both a reiteration of past musical themes and a progression forward, which I imagine longtime fans will have no problem embracing. Standout cuts: “Never Had Nobody Like You,” “Hold Time,” “To Save Me” and “Stars Of Leo.”

http://www.myspace.com/mward

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Despite beginning with the current single, “Real Love,”Little Honey, the latest album from Lucinda Williams, didn’t do much for me until track four, “Little Rock Star,” a barbed commentary on problematic rock stars. It’s followed in short order by one of the best rockers she’s written, “Honey Bee,” and from that point on, it felt like a real Williams record, romantic but tough minded, though considerably more optimistic and upbeat in tone this time out. It’s more of a rock and blues record than it is an alt-country and folk record, and she mixes in a bit of soul for good measure. The gospel tinged AC/DC cover that concludes the album, “It’s A Long Way To The Top,” is a good summation of what she’s up on Little Honey, and even if it’s not necessarily one of the best tracks, it’s clear she’s having a good time, as she does on the profanely funny duet she does with Elvis Costello, “Jailhouse Tears.” It’s definitely got its highs and lows, but this is a pretty solid album from Williams, maybe not her best album ever, but a lot of fun in general. Standout cuts: “Little Rock Star,” “Honey Bee,” “Well Well Well” and “Jailhouse Tears.”

http://www.myspace.com/lucindawilliams