Album Review: M. Ward – Hold Time

A mishmash of classic covers and bemusingly brilliant originals, with mentions of William Blake, Catholic education and original sin and a mingling of genres as diverse as glam rock, rockabilly and blues, this album is a ruddy triumph. Matt Ward hops eras with ease, from the blues of the (first) great depression to 60s pop, and still manages to hit the 21st century nail right on the head.

“Never Had Nobody Like You” has a bedrock in guitar riffs and a backbeat that would be at ease on a Gary Glitter album.  It’s a triumphant song about the exuberance of a burgeoning love affair which teeters on a precipice of future complication.  It asks, can one life be redeemed by the presence of another person?  Can it become as simple as “a,b,c, like 1,2,3”?  This is also the first of two songs that feature actress Zooey Deschanel, with whom Ward recorded the highly successful 2008 album She and Him: Volume 1.

Deschanel also contributes vocals on “Rave on” – a Sonny West cover made famous by Buddy Holly in  1958.  A love song that exudes the essence of all that is good about 60s pop, Ward and Deschanel’s voices fuse with highly pleasurable results for the chorus – “This crazy feeling.  I know it’s got me reeling. When you say ‘I love you’ I say ‘rave on'”  Vivacious, gentle and celebratory, this song couldn’t be simpler or more beautiful.

Duet “Oh Lonesome Me”, originally by Don Gibson and recorded by Neil Young on 1970’s After The Goldrush, would give Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue a run for their money any day of the week.  Featuring gravel-tongued chanteuse Lucinda Williams, this track is the break-up song to end them all.  Ward drawls, “Everybody’s going out, having fun.  I’m a fool for staying home, having none”, accompanied by a lonely piano melody.  When Williams sings “I know that I should have some fun and paint the town” it’s all too clear that she won’t be doing anything of the sort.  Instead, she’ll be drowning in a sea of Marlboro reds, single malt and broken glass, waiting for the pain to end.

Other gems of lines on this album include “this love, this lie between you and I, is older than that burning ball of fire up in the sky, and  the gale that fills our sails.” and, on a song set in New York, “I get so low I need a little pick-me-up, I get so high I need a bring-me-down”.  I shan’t tell you which songs they’re from though, so a sumptuous treasure hunt is in order.  Hop to it. 

Words: Helen True