M. Ward is exactly the kind of boy you would want to marry, the kind of boy who wears exhausted flannel shirts as he strums acoustic love songs from across the illegal bonfire in your backyard. In fact, his music is kind of like a flannel shirt: his voice is soft and scraggy, his lyrics transcend basic generational lines. In M. Ward’s aptly named sixth album, “Hold Time,” he creates a musical wormhole of sorts, in which songs exist above the normal constraints of age.
The album starts with “For Beginners,” a song that acts as a primer for the world of M. Ward. With its upbeat, folksy guitar melody and standard lyrical content (what’s more standard than Adam and Eve?), the song eases listeners into “Hold Time” with a sound that’s both not too mellow and not too frenzied. As the song fades out with a comforting “Uh huh, Uh huh…,” it is almost like Ward is assuring us that the experience to come is going to be satisfying.
M.Ward shows off his Americana roots with the foot-tapping “Never Had Nobody Like You,” a slow-paced rock tune made for drives along the Interstate. Zooey Deschanel, the She of She and Him, lends her irresistible voice to the chorus, teaching us that the formula for a winning song is “just like ABC.” “Hold Time” stuns again with the frantic “To Save Me” — who ever knew an annoyed plea to God could be so happy?
As gentle and refreshing as the majority of the songs on “Hold Time” are, a few fall completely flat, as when M. Ward brings in the acclaimed Lucinda Williams to cover Don Gibson’s classic “Oh, Lonesome Me.” Williams’ usually lovely voice sounds god-awful on the track, reminiscent of my Great Aunt Linda after too many Marlboros. The echoing the song descends into, with its painful timing and phrasing, is cringe-inducing.
Overall, M. Ward is able to do just what he promised in the title of the album. Each song could have pleased listeners fifty years ago just as easily as they are pleasing listeners now. So when it all comes down to it, yeah, I’d marry him. If it meant that he would pen melancholy tunes about how he wished he “could hold time” to always remember “the endless summer in [my] laugh,” then absolutely.