M. Ward’s new album “A Wasteland Companion” is a return to what he does best: storytelling. The album as a whole is a delicate balance between slow and fast, love songs and introspective ballads.
Ward starts off “A Wasteland Companion” with “Clean Slate,” a classic M.Ward song with plenty of acoustic guitar and soft vocals, that could have easily belonged on any of his previous albums. Ward lists John Fahey as one of his top influences, and it’s scary how similar their guitars sound on songs like this. But with track number two, “Primitive Girl,” we get a taste of the higher-tempo tracks that are sprinkled throughout the first half of the album.
Ward collaborates with Zooey Deschanel on the happy-go-lucky track “Sweetheart,” which probably really belongs on a She & Him album. Deschanel has certainly upped Ward’s exposure tremendously through three She & Him albums, and her influence is apparent in his music as well as his career decisions. (She got him to do a Christmas album with her, enough said.)
The second half of the album flows quickly from song to song leaving you guessing about what to expect next. What you get sounds like Ward just grabbed his guitar and sat down next to you, telling a series of stories set to music, with an occasional interruption by an electric guitar or piano riff.
In “Watch The Show” Ward speaks from the point of view of a particular character he’s created; taking on several different personalities in one album is what makes “A Wasteland Companion” avoid the realm of the boring. What also kept things interesting for Ward is the fact that he recorded this album in eight different studios across the US and the UK, each track retaining a slightly different hallmark of when and with whom it was recorded.
After running around with She & Him and Monsters of Folk (Jim James, Mike Mogis and Conor Oberst) for the past three years, Ward is reestablishing his roots with “A Wasteland Companion”.
Top tracks: “I Get Ideas,” “The First Time I Ran Away” and “Watch The Show.”
Ward will be touring around the US and Europe through May 24th. “A Wasteland Companion” is available online and in stores April 10th.