After some serious sidetracking with fellow musician Zooey Deschanel and their following side project She & Him, the loveable folksy singer M. Ward’s new solo album Hold Time is finally here. And without much surprise, the Portland based musician’s sixth effort proves to be yet another example of Ward’s ability to create stunning and impossibly transfixing folk-rock records.
In the past, the traveling songwriter has repeatedly created music that often carries a lo-fi grime with it, allowing him to act as almost a throwback to the good ‘ol days, as he finger picked his way through each of his wonderful folk melodies. These qualities were what made him so desirable, which is why Hold Time seems so perplexing. Taking on a distinctively new style, Hold Time is a solid record once again featuring Ward’s mixed bag of influences. Much more like his work with She & Him, the album effectively captures that soulful ’60’s sound Ward and Deschanel helped recreate, while departing from the lighthearted, raspy folk most recall. However, albeit its complexity and overwhelming solidarity, Hold Time is nowhere near the same caliber as 2006’s stunning Post War.
The new album starts off slow with “For Beginners” which trots along with sultry vocals and a toe tapping guitar hook that shines light on all of Ward’s best qualities. Afterward, we’re struck with the bluesy pop number “Never Had Nobody Like You” claiming a catchy Steely Dan-esque guitar riff and featuring Deschanel’s sweet backing vocals that later slowly fades into “Jailbird”; a warm and comforting ballad.
Surprisingly, after the somber title track plays next Hold Time takes a drastic shift from Ward’s signature style, instead featuring an assortment of some more rock based tracks and a few hit or miss covers. As far as the covers go, Ward’s rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” is timeless, as he drastically alters the originally fast-paced rock tune into a slow tempo surf-rock number. However, his take on Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me” is disappointing, as he’s changed it into a distant and spacey duet that comes across as a back and forth call between him and Lucinda Williams.
It seems that the record’s best moments are scattered, but clearly lie with the happy go lucky “To Save Me”, the clickety-clack behind “Fisher of Men”, which definitely channels a bit of Johnny Cash and “One Hundred Million Years”; a drifting love song reminiscent of some of Ward’s earlier work. What’s really impressive though is the closing track, “Outro”. Certainly one of the better tracks on Hold Time, the spaghetti western styled instrumental “Outro” is full of eerie twangs, electric guitars and the pitter patter of a snare drum. It’s truly breath taking!
As always, Ward’s distinctive guitar plucking style brings out the tenderness and emotion within his lyrics, making them both introspective and hopeful. While the continuity on this album is sparse, Hold Time manages to stand strong with its wide range of influences creating the backbone of its success. Let’s just hope he continues at this pace.