Frontier Psychiatrist

60-Second Review: M. Ward, A Wasteland Companion

Posted on: April 24, 2012

M. Ward, A Wasteland Companion

M. Ward seems to have a pretty good life. Over the last decade, the singer-songwriter’s output includes several solid solo albums, the Monsters of Folk project with Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, and collaborations with a bevy of female singers, including Beth Orton, Neko Case, Jenny Lewis, and Zooey Deschanel (sigh). On his eighth studio album, Ward sticks to his successful formula that centers on his gravelly yet tuneful voice and strummy acoustic guitar. Although A Wasteland Companion is nothing revolutionary, the 12 songs deliver Ward’s reliable brand of indie adult contemporary music: a fusion of folk and blues with splashes of country and swing. While nominally a solo record, the personnel includes 17 other musicians, including Mogis and Deschanel, whose bright warbly voice balances Ward’s signature rasp.

As in the past, Ward has his melancholy moments, such as the bluesy title track and the opener “Clean Slate,” on which he sings “When I was a younger man/I thought the pain of defeat would last forever” over fingerpicking reminiscent of Nick Drake. But despite these songs, the ominous album title, and spooky cover art with Ward silhouetted against a full moon, A Wasteland Companion is often a cheery record. “Sweetheart,” a duet with Deschanel, is a wholesome paean to chaste love, enlivened by handclaps, shoo-be-doo vocals, 50’s guitar arpeggios, and a swooping pedal steel. The song begins: “You have a sweet heart/Sweetheart/You have a nice smile/Baby/You drove me crazy/Down Lover’s Lane.”)  In a similar vein, “I Get Ideas” centers on the sort of playful innuendo that may have seemed risque for Buddy Holly or the early Beatles, but in 2012 sounds almost quaint. And the last track, “Pure Joy,” is just that, reinforcing the notion that A Wasteland Companion is more idealistic and homespun than dark and apocalyptic, more Garrison Keillor than T.S. Elliot.

I was tempted to buy A Wasteland Companion on vinyl on Record Store Day, during which I hit four shops in New Jersey before and after a somewhat premature beach trip. Unfortunately, I gave my turntable to a friend two years ago, so I settled for the free digital stream. Still, for the retro sheen of Ward’s music and the crackly warmth of his voice, 33 1/3 RPM seems like the perfect  speed.

Keith Meatto is co-editor of Frontier Psychiatrist, back this week after a post-SXSW hiatus. In May, he’s off to Philadelphia to see M. Ward at Union Transfer, Yards Brewery, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. He bought A Very She and Him Christmas as a present for his mom and is an unapologetic fan of New Girl.

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3 Responses to "60-Second Review: M. Ward, A Wasteland Companion"

[…] Meatto is co-editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. He recently reviewed M. Ward’s new album, A Wasteland Companion, and Alain De Botton’s book Religion for Atheists. He was a story advisor on the documentary […]

[…] Last week, he reviewed Soul of America, a documentary about soul singer Charles Bradley, and M. Ward’s A Wasteland Companion. Sure, Italians do it better, but the Irish do a pretty decent job, too. Share […]

[…] editor-in-chief of Frontier Psychiatrist. His recent reviews include new albums by Chromatics and M. Ward and the music documentary Soul of America. Share […]

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