There is not much doubt that we live in strange times and M. Ward’s Migration Stories is the perfect chance to travel the globe, examining what was, what is and what might be. If there’s a sense of dislocation to this collection of songs, it comes, partially, from recording the album in Montreal, a city Ward had only passed through during tours. With Tim Kingsbury, Richard Reed Parry, Craig Silvey and Teddy Impakt of Arcade Fire as guides, he navigates an exploration of those who wander in searching for a better life.
Perhaps more importantly, these are songs forged over time from newspaper and TV reports, stories told by friends and family histories of people in motion, trying to find their place in the world. The eleven songs on Migration Stories blend reality, fantasy and fever dreams, creating currents of hope leavened with doses of dislocation.
Located somewhere beyond time and space, ‘Migration of Souls’ offers a peaceful, other worldly take on trying to reach people and places on a different plane. The combination of acoustic guitar, combined with electronics and saxophone suggest something special is afoot. Playing off that mood on Heaven’s ‘Nail And Hammer’, Wards guitar hearkens back generations to players like Duane Eddy and Les Paul.
Being unable to locate Migration Stories to a particular musical landscape offers a sense of mystery not unlike a musical equivalent of Twin Peaks. There’s a familiarity to the music, while also a feeling that there is something missing, something you should know but don’t. The acoustic and electric guitars of the instrumental, ‘Stevens Snow Man’ presents a simple melodic interlude between forays into the uncertainty.
Swirling synthetic strings shift ‘Along The Santa Fe Trail’ forward from the Glen Miller popularised song of the forties to a newer horizon. Yet Ward’s own migration tale goes back in time, featuring his grandfather moving from Mexico to Southern California via El Paso. The ability to create moments that are effectively unable to be located precisely in the fabric of time is what makes this album so special. These are universal stories that could exist at a number of different points in time.
The closing instrumental piece, ‘Rio Drone’, offers a pathway back to the present day. Guitars suggest a sense of the familiar creating a touchstone back to today. On Migration Stories M. Ward offers a look at what migration means outside of our current contexts and constructs. Along the way we are able to connect with strangers and ancestors who have written real migration stories.