After some serious sidetracking with fellow musician Zooey Deschanel and their following side project She & Him, the loveable folksy singer M. Wards 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 Wards mixed bag of influences. Much more like his work with She & Him, the album effectively captures that soulful ’60s 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 2006s 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 Wards best qualities. Afterward, were struck with the bluesy pop number Never Had Nobody Like You claiming a catchy Steely Dan-esque guitar riff and featuring Deschanels 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 Wards 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, Wards rendition of Buddy Hollys 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 Gibsons Oh Lonesome Me is disappointing, as hes 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 records 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 Wards earlier work. Whats 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. Its truly breath taking!
As always, Wards 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. Lets just hope he continues at this pace.