Album Review: M. Ward, 'A Wasteland Companion'

74 Billboard Rating

M. WARD
"A Wasteland Companion"
Producer: M. Ward
Merge Records
Release Date: April 10

M. Ward opens his new studio album, "A Wasteland Companion," with a lovely acoustic ditty called "Clean Slate." But a clean slate is hardly what this indie-folk heavyweight is working with here, given the boost his profile has received lately thanks to acclaimed collaborations with Zooey Deschanel (as She & Him) and members of Bright Eyes and My Morning Jacket (as Monsters of Folk). Ward's a bigger deal now than he was when he put out his last solo record, 2009's "Hold Time," which means we come to "A Wasteland Companion" with certain expectations. Happily, Ward meets them: In the title track he shows off the gorgeous guitar work that's earned him gigs with the likes of Norah Jones, while "Primitive Girl" and "Sweetheart"-the latter a duet with Deschanel-deliver the rollicking early-pop thrills for which he's known. (Other guests include Giant Sand frontman Howe Gelb and members of Sonic Youth and Dr. Dog.) Best of all is "Wild Goose," where Ward's various talents come together in a woozy rush of hushed harmonies, sparkling lap steel and Old Hollywood strings.

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