M. Ward – Hold Time


M. Ward – Hold Time (Merge Records; released February 17th, 2009)

Matt Ward‘s last three albums are all pop-folk masterpieces in their own right; the heart-rending and at times hilarious Transfiguration Of Vincent (written as an ode to his close friend Vincent O’Brien), the perfectly imperfect Transistor Radio, and the beautifully arranged and perfect little slices of Americana contained in 2006’s Post-War.

And let’s also not forget last year’s She & Him Volume One, which found Ward teaming up with Zooey Deschanel for a lovely little album full of warm folk-pop ditties and stellar re-workings of some classic tunes. Miss Deschanel returns the favor on Hold Time, helping out with vocals on the track Never Had Nobody Like You. Ward has a lot of guests joining him here; there’s also an appearance from Grandaddy‘s Jason Lytle, DeVotchKa‘s Tom Hagerman and the inimitable Lucinda Williams on country standard Oh Lonesome Me.

I can’t help thinking that I’ve heard all these songs before (and I don’t mean the covers)- that’s because Ward‘s music has been informed by a steady diet of AM radio, sounding like it was recorded before the days of multi-tracking. His music is rife with the over-arching theme that there was possibly another time when this style of music was held dear; hence, “hold time“. And it’s so accessible because it’s so simple- all the songs are built around easy, four chord guitar progressions in 4/4 time. I found myself whistling along a whole lot (it feels like home; or rather a Norman Rockwell-esque home we Americans like to reminisce about, I’m not sure it ever existed. Maybe for about 3 months in 1959.)

Many songs eschew drums- the ones that do have them appear alongside accompanying hand-claps. Whether it’s soulful balladeering delivered in a hushed whisper (the album’s title track and the cover of Oh Lonesome Me), pure pop (Never Had Nobody Like You), guitar jazz progressions that rely heavily on the use of major 7ths (One Hundred Million Years, Blake’s View), country shuffle boogies (Buddy Holly‘s Rave On), dreamy ditties (Stars Of Leo), Ward embodies the Brill Building-era aesthetic; he’s able to put out consisitently cohesive albums that tether the listener’s ears to the speakers for the simple fact that he writes timeless songs- they exist outside of; yet sound like they could be from anytime between 1950 and 2009.


  1. For Beginners
  2. Never Had Nobody Like You
  3. Jailbird
  4. Hold Time
  5. Rave On
  6. To Save Me
  7. One Hundred Million Years
  8. Stars of Leo
  9. Fisher of Men
  10. Oh Lonesome Me
  11. Epistemology
  12. Blake’s View
  13. Shangri-La
  14. Outro (I’m a Fool to Want You)

M. Ward