Review of new Mike Alan Ward CD. He finishes a previously unpublished Gram Parsons song
Mike Alan Ward
“Reading Hemingway: Looking Through the Pain”
Mud Bug Records
When Gram Parsons died at age 26 in 1973, he left behind a notebook he had filled with everything from doodles to shopping lists and the occasional song idea.
That notebook, more than 30 years later, wound up with Montana native Mike Alan Ward, who had been living in Nashville since the 1980s.
The idea was to pass the notebook around to several noted songwriters, like Ward, Jim Lauderdale, Carl Jackson and Marty Stuart, to see if they could come up with a new Parsons album. It was something like “Mermaid Avenue,” the album Billy Bragg and Wilco made of some forgotten Woody Guthrie lyrics, and the more recent Bob Dylan-driven “Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams.”
Poring over the notebook, Ward knew he had something when he came across the line, “Blurry, Slurry Night.”
“That sounds like Gram, and that sounds like a country song,” Ward said.
The song appears here on Ward’s first CD since moving back to Montana, and it does sound like Gram, with its pedal steel and Ward blending his aching vocals with singer Leslie Satcher.
Elsewhere on the album, Ward — who has written songs for Faith Hill, Dierks Bentley, Mel Tillis, Great Divide and others — expertly retraces country music’s roots, from folk to bluegrass.
“Wreckin’ the Train” is pure high and lonesome.
“Just when things are going my way/ That need for ramblin’ gets rolling through my veins,” Ward sings.
“You’ll Never Find Me,” the banjo-jangled “Almost Over You” and “Spiritual Awakening” also sound straight out of the darkest Appalachian holler. The highlight, at least lyrically, is the folky title cut, a melancholy, piano-driven travelogue that sounds like it might have fallen off one of Ronnie Milsap’s early albums.
The CD was published in Billings by Bill Porta’s Mud Bug Records and is available from www.CdBaby.com/cd/MikeAlanWard. It’s also available at iTunes and Amazon.