M. Ward. Huh?
The way it has worked out, I’m usually the oldest in our circle of friends with small children. This makes pop culture references dodgy, and periodically reminds me how out of cycle my musical tastes have become.
Saturday, we had friends to dinner on the back porch in the cooling of the coming fall, the twilight of summer. I grabbed a stack of discs from the mess of things I haven’t bothered to listen to — still a considerable mess, despite my withdrawal into obscurity. Including, because one of our friends was raving about him, the new M. Ward release, titled Hold Time.
And then my wife put it in the truck when we drove out to the farm because she really wanted to hear it.
Now, over the years M. Ward’s name came up as Peter and I were talking about the feature well, and if you were wondering why we never wrote at length about him, it’s because I shouted Peter down and he didn’t yell very loudly, at least not that I remember. Which is to say that I never understood how M. Ward was a part of anything that I or No Depression was meant to care about.
That said, this quick entry is not meant for a provocation. I’m after an explanation.
Because now I’ve listened, and all I can report about Hold Time is that M. Ward deconstructs Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me” as a duet with Lucinda Williams, wisely singing to and fro with her, and not together (as with her Elvis Costello duet), and that nobody even recognized the base song in his reworking of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On.”
But, really, what?
I’m not opposed to atmosphere. I was a vague partisan of much of the Independent Project catalog; was a huge fan of the Cowboy Junkies, and disappointed that they never became what they briefly were; was a passing fan of Tarnation…and there are other sounds. Mazzy Starr, say, though it’s been ages since I actually listened to them (and I saw somebody walking yesterday who moved like the late Chris Takino, whose name will mean nothing to most of you, which is truly a pity; the link is that it was Chris who introduced me to Mazzy Starr).
But I’m a simple man. I want songs. I want the songs to be ABOUT something. I want them to go somewhere. To be songs. To have something to say. To have emotion, even if that emotion is withdrawn (see: Gary Numan) or only barely hinted at (see: Mark Lanegan).
M. Ward, to these well-worn ears, seems only to be about the sound of things. It is purely decorative music, designed I suppose to show how wonderfully clever he is. How deep.
But I don’t know why anybody would want to listen to it more than once.
So that’s my question, and it’s meant honestly: Somebody explain to me why I’m supposed to care, what it is I’m supposed to hear, what it is that makes M. Ward so special. What is it I’m missing?