It’s been an eventful three years since Matthew "M." Ward last gave free rein to his solo muse on 2009’s much heralded Hold Time. Ward, doing a brisk Indie Rock business under his first initial and last name, has been almost psychopathically busy in the interim, from recording and touring with Connor Oberst, Jim James and Mike Mogis under their Monsters of Folk banner and performing similar duties with Zooey Deschanel in their cliquey-cool guy/girl duo, aptly christened She & Him.
Given those high profile distractions, it’s amazing Ward found time to follow up the best album in his estimable catalog.
On his eighth full length album, A Wasteland Companion, Ward was definitely influenced by the tremendous amount of traveling that devoured his recent schedule, forcing him to consider the literal and figurative things he would either keep or jettison in the process. As a result, Ward simplified his approach in writing and recording without sacrificing the qualities that have made him cultishly appealing for the past dozen or so years.
“Sweetheart” shimmers like a lost George Harrison/Brian Wilson Surf samba and “Me and My Shadow” is a Folk ode-meets-lo fi Garage Rock rave-up (both featuring Deschanel on accompanying vocals), while “I Get Ideas” has the energetic swing of a collaboration between Brian Setzer and Jimbo Mathus. The title track has the expressive nod of front porch Delta Blues and “Watch the Show” takes a sonic cue from Tom Waits and Robbie Robertson as Ward spits out an indictment on television from one of its faceless proles.
Ward’s noirish spin on Rockabilly, Pop, Blues and Folk on A Wasteland Companion is haunting, compelling and perfectly in keeping with his quirkily brilliant body of work.
Stream the full album here.