M. Ward

Hold Time

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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.

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