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Alternative & Indie - Released December 11, 2020 | Anti - Epitaph

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To dare, in this day and age, to produce a cover version of the whole of the album Lady in Satin by Billie Holiday, the late masterpiece released shortly before the legendary singer's death, one would either have to be ambitious to the point of pretension, or else approach the project very cleverly. Singer-guitarist M. Ward, an unassuming fixture of American pop and Americana for about twenty years, has, naturally, chosen the second option: his approach is gentle and careful. Whereas in 1958 Billie Holiday sang amidst a forty-strong orchestra, like a shipwreck amid a storm, Mr. Ward approaches the songs of Lady in Satin alone, with an acoustic guitar and a Tascam 4-track. Mr. Ward has always been a friend of female singers. He has played with Cat Power, Norah Jones and Zooey Deschanel on the duo She & Him. Maybe in addition to thinking about spring, he was dreaming of accompanying Billie Holiday on this record. In any case, his singing draws out the torpor and detachment from Lady Day’s works. His guitar playing is deceptively simple and minimalist, like idle chords strummed at home when no one is listening. Sometimes they sound like hoarse little jazz bossas, hanging out of time. Recorded on a tight budget and finished during the Covid epidemic when Mr. Ward could no longer do concerts, Think of Spring sounds like an album of domestic demos, a pyjama record. © Stéphane Deschamps/Qobuz.
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 3, 2020 | Anti - Epitaph

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On M. Ward's tenth solo album and his first for ANTI- Records, the Oregon producer/songwriter is still playing folk music, yes, but this time around, he's also imbibing in a '50s crooner fantasy. The new drag fits him well. "Heaven's Nail and Hammer," with its bubbling-under acoustic sounds punctuated by the occasional Hawaiian-sunset blaze of electric guitar, and "Coyote Mary's Traveling Show" can only be described as dreamy. As in: lovely and soft, but also something from a pleasantly out-of-focus twilight dream. Opener "Migration of Souls" is gauzy and fragile, like you're listening to sweet and low transmissions from another plane. Ditto "Chamber Music." "Unreal City" picks up the pace but is still a gentle creature dressed up with doo-wop hand claps. Driven by campfire guitar and far-off thunderclap percussion, lullaby "Torch" is as atmospheric as summer weather; "heart beats a rhythm to its own ba-ba-ba," Ward exhales. Recommended for road trips, backyard campouts and porch naps. © Shelly Ridenour/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released March 18, 2003 | Bella Union

M. Ward's Transfiguration of Vincent is nothing less than spectacular. From the buoyant, late-Beatlesque "Vincent O'Brien" to the dank, shuffling, south of the border groove on "Sad, Sad Song," the troubadour manages to capture a timeless folkiness and match it with a surreal and sparkling sense of nostalgia that clearly echoes Tom Waits. Recorded with the Old Joe Clarks as the backup band, Transfiguration is rooted firmly in old-time Americana, yet M. Ward's take on country and particularly his vocals somehow fit perfectly with Giant Sand, Sparklehorse, and California's surreal, pastoral psych-pop outfit Grandaddy (whose Jason Lytle contributed some field recordings). Just check M. Ward's stunning transformation of Bowie's "Let's Dance," which proves there's some deeply buried pop beneath these honest folk tunes. Transfiguration is a quiet record and might lose some listeners in it's sleepy summer melancholy, but M. Ward is the real deal -- and he's surely worthy of heaps of attention and acclaim. © Charles Spano /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released February 22, 2005 | Bella Union

Listening to M. Ward's breezy ode to radio's forgotten heydays is a lot like taking in a huge breath of dust-bowl wind -- however, its charms are rooted in the hazy lemonade-sipping of summer rather than the great depression-obsession of the post-O Brother, Where Art Thou? mainstream. Ward's voice is a slap-delayed pastiche of Ron Sexsmith's easygoing croon and Andrew Bird's closed-mouth drawl, and like his front-porch fingerpicking, it's as effortless as it is effective. Transistor Radio begins with a lovely instrumental version of the Pet Sounds classic "You Still Believe in Me," then drops the needle on "One Life Away," a lo-fi shout-out to the radio towers of old that centers around the sly and condemning lines "To all the people in the ground/Listening to the sound of the living people walking up and down the graves/Well one of them is mine/I'm visiting my fräulein/She's only one breath away." Many have used the "fake old 78" approach before, but in Ward's hands it sounds truly genuine, and his falsetto harmonizing is as spooky as the song is sweet. While the rest of Radio plays out like a sequel to 2003's excellent Transfiguration of Vincent, with standout cuts like "Sweethearts On Parade," "Hi-Fi," and "Paul's Song" echoing that record's marvelous title track ("Vincent O'Brien"), there's a subtle optimism at work here that was only hinted at on previous recordings, and by the time he wraps the whole thing up with a gorgeous rendition of J.S. Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier," it's become apparent which fork in the road this eccentric troubadour has chosen, and it's generously dotted with pregnant storm clouds. © James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 4, 2006 | 4AD

Laconic California indie minstrel M. Ward's fifth offering is a thrift shop photo album filled with histories that may or may not have been, dust bowl carnival rides, and slices of sunlit Western Americana so thick that you need a broom to sweep up the bits that fall off of the knife. Ward makes records that sound like he just wandered in off the street with a few friends and hit the record button, but what would feel lazy and unfocused in less confident hands comes off like a tutorial in old-school songwriting and performance that hearkens back to the days of Hank Williams and Leadbelly if they had had access to a modern-day studio. Post-War is not only Ward's best effort yet, it's one of the best records of the year. While his distinctive half-second-delay drawl assumes its usual position as the ghostly broadcast from a more sepia-toned time, the production is far grander than on his previous outings. Opener "Poison Cup," sounding for what it's worth like a cross between the Walker Brothers' "Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" and an outtake from Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, kicks things off with sneaky keyboard strings that fade into the real deal, reaching elegiac heights by the diminutive track's end. A catchy cover of Daniel Johnston's "To Go Home" features guest vocalist Neko Case breathing fire into the choruses with her trademark howl, the rowdy "Requiem" sounds like a Tom Waits version of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls," and the peerless "Magic Trick," with its brilliant refrain of "She's got one magic trick/just one and that's it/she disappears," kicks off a suite of tunes that snake their way through to the album's end like a shot of Apple Jack. Like early Pavement, Ward knows how to make sloppy sound succinct, and it's that magic mix of earnestness and apathy that makes Post-War the secret bounty that it is. © James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 8, 2018 | M.Ward Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 9, 2012 | Bella Union

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Matthew Stephen Ward's seventh studio album was recorded in eight different studios and boasts 18 guest musicians, including Rachel Cox (Oakley Hall), Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Howe Gelb (Giant Sand), Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes), Tom Hagerman (Devotchka), Tobey Leaman (Dr. Dog), and She & Him's X chromosome Zooey Deschanel, just to name a few. Such a heroic production itinerary should surely yield appropriately epic results, but Ward's Wasteland Companion feels as organic and understated as anything he's done thus far. Most of the 12 songs flirt with ambient textures, but they remain firmly imbued with the breezy, tape-saturated patina that permeated early works like Transfiguration of Vincent and Transistor Radio. For the most part, outside of the slight but catchy "Primitive Girl" and the driving "Sweetheart," he eschews many of the pop tics that colored 2009's Hold Time for meandering, dustbowl folk arrangements ("Clean Slate"), galloping, country-gospel motifs ("Pure Joy"), and Tin Pan Alley nostalgia ("There's a Key"). Ward's naturalistic approach and consistently retro vibe work best when he lands somewhere in the middle of it all, as is the case with the lush and timeless sounding "Wild Goose" and the bluesy title track, both of which appear in the album's spare and satisfying second half. Fans who were wondering if Ward's mainstream successes would yield a stylistic sea change can rest easy, as his signature, sepia-tone demeanor, for better or for worse, remains steadfast. © James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 17, 2001 | M.Ward Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released February 17, 2009 | 4AD

M. Ward's fifth proper album begins appropriately with the lyric "When you're absolute beginners, it's a panoramic view," a notion that the dusty Portland, OR-based singer/songwriter must be nostalgic for as his profile increases with each and every project. His 2008 collaboration with actress/singer/songwriter Zooey Deschanel as the producer, player, and arranger of She & Him helped to let the rest of the world in on what the low-key folk underground has been savoring since 2001's End of Amnesia. His penchant for sun-drenched West Coast vistas and timeless narratives that revel in Tom Waits-inspired Americana and non-dogmatic spirituality come full circle on Hold Time, a typical Matt Ward collection of laconic summer songs that could have safely appeared in any decade without suspicion of origin. Similar in scope to 2006's Post-War, Hold Time feels like a single performance, with songs fading out within inches of their successors, often holding true to both instrumentation and theme. Ward populates the project with a handful of guest appearances, though none gratuitous. Deschanel returns the favor on two cuts, a languid cover of the Buddy Holly classic "Rave On" and "Never Had Nobody Like You," a straight-up blues-rocker that fuses a Gary Glitter backbeat to the skeleton of Post-War nugget "Requiem"; Grandaddy mastermind Jason Lytle helps turn "To Save Me" into a lost ELO-produced Beach Boys rarity; and Lucinda Williams lends her sweetly graveled pipes to a lovely, expansive version of the Don Gibson weeper "Oh Lonesome Me." As always, Ward peppers the record with originals that sound like long-lost Hank Williams tunes ("One Hundred Million Years" and "Shangri-La") and lush ballads that sound like they crawled out of an old safe deposit box. The title track in particular brings to mind Ward's English equal, ex-Pulp guitarist and ultra-cool retro-crooner Richard Hawley -- between the two of them, they've built a bridge between indie and adult alternative rock that positively reeks of class. Hold Time will do little to entice listeners for whom Matt Ward's sepia-tone charm holds no sway, but for fans who have enjoyed the ride thus far, this looks like the sunniest stretch of road yet. © James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 15, 2020 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released March 4, 2016 | Bella Union

With his static-dusted voice and predilection for early rock antiquity, M. Ward has always come across as one of his generation's more understated bards. Interpreting the ever-deepening subtleties of his catalog generally requires repeated listens, and such is the case with his eighth solo effort, the appropriately moody More Rain. Easing in with a minute-long rainstorm soundscape, he leads off with the dreamy acoustic gallop of "Pirate Dial," a genial folk-pop hymn perfectly suited for the patient rotations of a vinyl long-player. A stuttering guitar groove on the Neko Case-aided "Time Won't Wait" quickens the album's pulse, setting up the similarly paced lead single, "Confession," a classic Ward track replete with a rich vein of warm backing vocals and soaring trumpet solo. Eerie doo wop vocals adorn the beautiful ballad "I'm Listening (Child's Theme)," then reprise sweetly on the lighter-toned "Little Baby." "Girl from Conejo Valley" seems at first like a fairly straightforward Ward track before the unexpected Moog synth hook in its chorus turns it into the catchiest track on the album. "Temptation" gets some nicely layered guitar thump courtesy of Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck, the latter of whom also adorns the gentle country ballad "Phenomenon" with some crafty mandolin. Ward's occasional tradition of covering a tune from rock's early days continues here as he puts his stamp on the Beach Boys' lighthearted 1964 classic "You're So Good to Me." It's the second time he's dipped into the Wilson brothers' catalog -- he released an instrumental version of Pet Sounds' "You Still Believe in Me" on his fourth LP -- and, though it seems like it ought to come across as some sort of trifling gimmick, there's something about his blend of playfulness and reverence that makes it work. Within Ward's canon, More Rain may not work overtime to distinguish itself, but like nearly all of his releases, it's a companionable listen with a lot of craft hidden under its layers. © Timothy Monger /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released December 3, 2020 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 16, 2012 | Bella Union

Matthew Stephen Ward's seventh studio album was recorded in eight different studios and boasts 18 guest musicians, including Rachel Cox (Oakley Hall), Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Howe Gelb (Giant Sand), Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes), Tom Hagerman (Devotchka), Tobey Leaman (Dr. Dog), and She & Him's X chromosome Zooey Deschanel, just to name a few. Such a heroic production itinerary should surely yield appropriately epic results, but Ward's Wasteland Companion feels as organic and understated as anything he's done thus far. Most of the 12 songs flirt with ambient textures, but they remain firmly imbued with the breezy, tape-saturated patina that permeated early works like Transfiguration of Vincent and Transistor Radio. For the most part, outside of the slight but catchy "Primitive Girl" and the driving "Sweetheart," he eschews many of the pop tics that colored 2009's Hold Time for meandering, dustbowl folk arrangements ("Clean Slate"), galloping, country-gospel motifs ("Pure Joy"), and Tin Pan Alley nostalgia ("There's a Key"). Ward's naturalistic approach and consistently retro vibe work best when he lands somewhere in the middle of it all, as is the case with the lush and timeless sounding "Wild Goose" and the bluesy title track, both of which appear in the album's spare and satisfying second half. Fans who were wondering if Ward's mainstream successes would yield a stylistic sea change can rest easy, as his signature, sepia-tone demeanor, for better or for worse, remains steadfast. © James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released December 3, 2019 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released November 18, 2020 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released March 9, 2020 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released January 29, 2007 | 4AD

This excellent four-song EP adds more fuel to the suspicion that M. Ward is one of the smartest, most talented, and most appealing singer/songwriters of the early 2000s. The title cut is the feature, a revamped, near-majestic reading of Daniel Johnston's "To Go Home," featuring alt country royalty Neko Case. The album's other tracks -- the lazy country honk of "Cosmopolitan Pap," the hazy, melancholic piano ballad of "Human Punching Bag," and a cover of Jimmy Dale Gilmore's "Headed for a Fall" (also featuring Case) -- are equally wonderful. A worthy purchase for fans and newcomers alike, To Go Home is a little gem of an EP. © TiVo
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Rock - Released July 8, 2020 | M.Ward Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released January 22, 2020 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released March 31, 2020 | Anti - Epitaph

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