I’ve been hearing M. Ward’s Never Had Nobody Like You a few times on the radio lately, and I’ve got to keep reminding myself that this is a new song. This is probably because it seems like the archetypal M. Ward song, all welcoming fuzzy guitars and breezy melody, and it feels instantly familiar. In that way, it’s pretty much like the rest of his new album Hold Time.
There’s nothing particularity remarkable about this record. There’s plenty that’s familiar from previous Ward albums, and numerous Americana boxes are ticked - country twangs, sweet backing harmonies, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, even a Buddy Holly cover. But it’s this familiarity that makes it such a terrific album.
Sure, it’s a bit more produced and slick-sounding than previous outings, but unusually this works brilliantly. The perfect case in point is the cover of Don Williams’ Lonesome Me, which is several well-produced arrangements away from Neil Young’s version. I’d normally rail against this sort of thing as overproduced nonsense and call everyone back to the beauty of the stripped down version. But no, what with the swelling strings, the slide guitar twang, Lucinda Williams’ backing vocals all stretched out to six minutes, it’s all just so RIGHT. Forget all that minimalist scratching. This is where it’s at for now.
Hold Time is warm and friendly, like a favourite old coat. It’s not bright and shiny, it’s not the sound of 2009. It’s just great tunes with an effortless feel that breezes past and ruffles your hair with a cheeky smile. Most of all, it’s Matt’s voice - slightly careworn, slightly cracked, always so pleasurable to hear. There will be plenty more admirable, more exciting albums released this year, but I don’t think I’ll keep returning to them as much as I will to this one.