x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

M Ward delivers 'musical travelogue' with latest album

A Wasteland Companion never sounds disjointed, despite being recorded in eight different studios.

M Ward
A Wasteland Companion
(Bella Union)
***

The Portland, Oregon-based producer, singer and musician Matthew Ward is like a garden mole: you never know where he'll surface next. When he does show, though, there tends to be a talented and attractive woman nearby. Collaborators to date have included Norah Jones and Leslie Feist, and Ward also steps out with She & Him, the somewhat arch duo that's co-helmed by the actress and singer Zooey Deschanel. Monsters of Folk, Ward's trio with Conor Oberst and Jim James, has garnered column-inches too, so it's easy to forget that he's also an able solo artist whose country and folk-imbued sixth album Hold Time wowed the critics. There, a leisurely take on Buddy Holly's Rave On flagged Ward's keen but never slavish appreciation of the tics and production values of 1950s pop, and on A Wasteland Companion, his lively take on Daniel Johnson's rockabilly nugget Sweetheart serves much the same purpose. More than that, though, this album showcases Ward's deft, laid-back acoustic guitar picking and similarly chilled-out vocals. Sun-dappled songs such as Clean Slate, There's a Key and Wild Goose tick along in a manner reminiscent of a young Paul Simon, our host exploring themes of renewal, change and escape on a road-recorded record he describes as a "musical travelogue". Esteemed guests, including Giant Sand's Howe Gelb (piano) and PJ Harvey foil John Parish (percussion) bring colour, and despite being recorded in eight different studios from NYC to Bristol, England, the album never sounds disjointed. Songwriting-wise, however, there's nothing quite so emotionally resonant as Hold Time's title track.

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