M.Ward has always had a penchant for older music. Claiming his favorite song is the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” his albums have always had a certain AM radio vibe to them, and his collaboration last year with Zooey Deschanel as She&Him was as great a throwback to sunny 1960s pop and country as we’ve heard in recent years.
However, the last time we heard from M.Ward on a solo album, 2006s Post-War, he had his mind set on the future as he was crafting a set of songs to be used and sung after the War in Iraq. While we are still waiting to be able to spin Post-War as it was intended, M.Ward has given us a new album, Hold Time, which points us backward in time, both with its AM radio folk-rock and its lyrics which take us all the way back to the Garden of Eden in the opening track.
So effective is Ward in this back-in-time movement that Hold Time feels stuck in time and timeless at the same time. Though released in 2009, it sounds as though it could just as easily been released any time in the last several decades. And The Garden of Eden is not the only biblical reference found here. Ward drops them all over the place in this record including references to the Apostle Paul, Mount Zion, and a song about the “Fisher of Men.”
Whether these references are indicative of a personal faith in Ward or not is difficult to tell but it does provide Hold Time with a certain context, a certain language that makes its timelessness all the more believable. This religious lingo sounds somewhat out of place in 21st century pop music but it builds a nostalgic feel to the record that provides a breath of fresh air to the arid wastelands of many of 2009s releases.
Ward wades in the same musical pools that he has on his last few records with his nearly perfected sunny pop folk and warm country. Nearly all of these songs are built around Ward’s twangy acoustic guitar with an electric lead chugging alongside it. Hold Time hangs together as a single unit, like it was written as an album rather than a collection of songs – yet another tradition of a bygone era. In fact, the only song that doesn’t stylistically fit in here is the title track.