M. Ward’s music has always contained the dusty imprints of decades of radio hits from all sides of the dial.
The Portland, Oregon-based singer/songwriter has made a respectable career out of tastefully mining the styles and sounds of the past, and imbuing them with his own modern, understated flair (with the occasional dash of Zooey Deschanel to appeal to the commercial masses). On his eighth solo studio album, More Rain, Ward once again taps into the familiar echoes of musical history, crafting a breezy, uptempo collection of tracks that show off his songwriting talents as well as his wide array of influences.
As if the title didn’t entirely drive home the blustery theme of the record, the introductory song features the faint sounds of a storm, before the relaxed acoustic strum of "Pirate Dial" shuffles into step. The track is a subtle nod back to Ward’s 2005 gem, Transistor Radio, while also an acknowledgment that the he still hears the inspirations from yesteryear and continues to hold them dear. That eternal connection is made clear on the T. Rex sounding riff that permeates "Time Won’t Wait Up", a rollicking, boogie woogie number that owes a bit of its charm to the sultry, glam rock stomp at the heart of "Bang A Gong (Get It On)"’
"Temptation" also contains subtle similarities with the Go Go’s "Vacation", both in song structure and chord progression (as well as the one word title). But rather than coming across as lazy creative theft, Ward’s material plays out like affectionate tributes to indelible songs and melodies that have shaped his tastes from his early days onward. This record was four long years in the making, and that open-ended time frame allowed Ward to explore a wide range of styles and tempos throughout the collection, dabbling in spare, countrified storytelling ("Phenomenon"), exuberant, Basement Tapes-like singalongs ("I’m Going Higher"), as well as the natural, introspective tunes we’ve come to expect from Ward.
The doo wop elegance of "I’m Listening (Child’s Theme)" is the type of easy refinement that Ward always seems to have in his musical arsenal, injected with the reflective wisdom that comes with age and experience. The album bounces seamlessly between rousing (for M. Ward, anyway) jams and serene, introspective numbers, as the fitful churn of "Girl From Conejo Valley" illuminates a wistful missed connection from the past, while the tranquil grace of "Slow Driving Man" pays homage to a lost friend and extols the virtues of savoring the journey and not rushing to get where we are going.
Ward also allows for his contemporary influences to shine through, as an all-star collection of guest stars helped contribute to the album’s rich tones and resonant layers. Peter Buck, k.d. lang, Neko Case, The Secret Sisters, and NRBQ’s Joey Spampinato all add to their own unique flair at different points in the record, blending their talents seamlessly within Ward’s luxurious arrangements while also giving the song’s a distinctively modern touch.
More Rain consistently sounds like a therapeutic record, one where you can see through the darker moments to when the clouds begin to clear. “Anybody got a load that they need lifted? Anybody got a pain in their heart?” Ward asks at the start of "Confession", letting listeners know that they can find solace in the power of music, like he does. Much of the album touches on providing – or searching for – that sense of comfort and serenity, and finding it wherever we can. And once we do manage to get lucky and make that rare, halcyon connection, to hold on to that feeling as long as we can. Before the storms return and the skies get dark once again.