April 3, 2003

Test Spin: M. Ward

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There’s a cactus in the Louisiana bayou, an alligator in the California wilderness, New York City is blanketed by desert sky, and through it all there’s Matt Ward, rough and sweet, like the sugar granules at the bottom of a strong cup of coffee.

The combination of Ward’s unfailingly clever guitar work with his gently graveled voice is nothing but purely charming and beautifully subtle. Influences and genres seem to drip off the music like condensation; there are no rough edges or conflicting sounds to be found. You could scour this album, or any other of Ward’s albums for that matter, for unwanted musical tension or faltering songwriting and you’d find nothing but songs that glint like a moonlit campfire.

Transfiguration of Vincent presents Ward, for the first time on an album, backed by a band: The Old Joe Clarks. Whatever musical romanticism might be lost in the move away from a solo, singer-guitarist album is more than made up for in style by the fleshing out of Ward’s songs via piano, bass, mandolin, and percussion. Ward and the band cover everything from dark country grumbles, to bluesy laments, to a cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” without a misstep. Neither the understated amalgamation of genres nor the delicate instrumental balance is ever forced; the listener gets nothing but a near-perfectly composed album.

Considering his obvious talent and his recent tours with indie-rock icons Cat Power and Bright Eyes, it’s a wonder Ward isn’t more well-known.

Maybe Matt Ward is the next Bob Dylan. Maybe he’s the next Tom Waits. Maybe he’s just the first M. Ward, and maybe that’s even better.

Archived article by Thea Brown