Matt Ward has always kept the kind of celebrity company that would one day make him...well, a celebrity himself. Folks like Jim James, Conor Oberst, Norah Jones, and Neko Case have always flocked to the Portland singer/songwriter, and for good reason. For nearly a decade Ward has churned out an impressive catalogue indeed. End of Amnesia, Transfiguration of Vincent, Transistor Radio, Post-War; Ward has spent the century thus far assembling an alluring blend of backwoods folk, rock, and pop on an incredibly consistent basis. And then Zooey Deschanel came along.
Ward's nostalgic, She and Him collaboration with Deschanel last year brought with it a much more mainstream sort of success. Suddenly the smoky voiced crooner found himself everywhere that mattered most for a musician of his caliber. So it would make sense then that Hold Time - Ward's first new album in three years - be considered kind of a big deal in terms of his career. It will, after all, probably make its' way to more people than any of his previous efforts. Which is good...because Hold Time is good.
Take opener "For Beginners", for example...a better title there is not. Newbie's to Ward's solo pedigree will find his approach on this track syrupy sweet...his acoustic guitar warm and fuzzy in all the right places. Moving right along, the bouncy bop behind "Never Had Nobody Like You" is enchanting as well...especially considering Deschanel shows up here to milk Ward's talent just a bit more. All that is followed up with "Jailbird"; a swoopy song that nestles in nice in close with its' champagne strings and distant "Help me help me's".
Sounds all nice and neat, doesn't it? The problem is, long time fans might find Hold Time sort of unmemorable as it cycles on through. Yes, "One Hundred Million Years" taps into Ward's classic, sparse recording technique. And "Fisher of Men" is a plump, rockabilly romp that's completely carefree. Even Lucinda Williams pokes her head through the door on "Oh Lonesome Me".
But Ward's biggest fans have always considered him sort of holy. Given its' inability to really sustain itself from beginning to end, Hold Time...just ain't holy. Here's hoping the album motivates his new fans to take a romp through his back catalogue after hearing it. - David Pitz