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4.3 out of 5 stars
Hold Time
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2009
In a world of Pro Tools and Logic, any wannabe guitarist can pick up the nearest acoustic and strum out a few half-hearted tunes about the allure of the road and their lost love, but few have been able to do it as consistently and as accurately as Portland, Ore.-based wunderkind M. Ward. With a healthy appreciation for his musical roots and a talent for speedy finger picking that calls to mind the greats of his favorite genre, Ward has proven time and again that folk-pop is in no danger of dying out, no more so than on his seventh effort, the superb Hold Time.

Ward's diverse oeuvre is even more striking when you look at the clearly discernable sense of progress he has made over the years, from the lo-fi acoustic wizardry of his debut to his more recent orchestral tapestries. Fresh off his work with actress Zooey Deschanel in the duo She & Him, Hold Time is the logical progression in his work, sounding like a more male-dominated version of She & Him's ode to the soul of the `60s, Volume One. Opener "For Beginners" is a concise bridge into his new work, a deceptively quick guitar melody underlying Ward's roughened vocals. The mellow production and Ward's campfire playing create a song with a sort of timeless quality to it, one that would sound just as home in an old-time western saloon as it does on an iPod's headphones.

The following trio of songs that open the record play like a best-of collection of some unsung folk hero, with the bluesy thump of "Never Had Nobody Like You" and the hypnotic jangle-pop of "Jailbird" leading into the more reflective, sedate title track. Ward's vocals, always a hate-it-or-love-it bone of contention among listeners, has rarely sounded as accessible as it does here, his eternally-stuffy, cracked delivery guiding the songs like a wizened folk patriarch without sounding off-key.

Ward is someone with an appreciation for his inspirations, and the few choice covers on Hold Time do their originals more than sufficient justice. His soft take on Buddy Holly's "Rave On" is buttressed by the charming back-up work of guest Deschanel, and the wisely understated standard "Oh Lonesome Me" pairs Ward with legend Lucinda Williams in crafting an old-time country ballad that fits in well with its Americana surroundings.

But it's Ward's own considerable skills as a songwriter and producer that turn Hold Time into one of his best yet, with tunes like the remarkably catchy "To Save Me" (yes, even Ward is not averse to throwing a synthesizer or two into an album) to the poppy love-letter of "Epistemology," where Ward declares "finally, I found you without ever learning how to / I put the right foot in front of the left" to a blazing guitar riff. The man is a world-class musician, and while his arrangements are often better served under able singer, such as Deschanel, his Dylan-esque vibe and subtle delivery make for a different, albeit entirely enjoyable, experience.

Lyrically, Ward doesn't stray too far from what his predecessors made their fame on, those old musical touchstones of love, death, and everyday life. The nostalgic "Stars of Leo" pines for a country life away from the bustle of the city, while "Shangri-La" welcomes death's embrace as an opportunity to "see the expression on the face of my sweet lord." Lyrics are mostly secondary throughout Hold Time, but that isn't to say they weak. Rather, it is Ward's spot-on delivery that turns these present-day songs into what seem like folk relics.

At fourteen tracks, Hold Time might seem like a bloated record, but aside from one exception, most songs stay around the three-minute mark, and it's a testament to Ward's skills that the record seems much shorter than it actually is. Ward changes things up enough times to avoid becoming complacent, and in every aspect of his work there is the mark of a consummate professional, from the flawless guitar work on nearly every track to his tasteful selection of covers. Hold Time is the kind of record that could match up with its inspirations and fit in right next to them, the highest kind of praise for a man who has carried the folk torch proudly into the new millennium.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2009
M. Ward's sixth album finds him with an increased public profile (having toured with Norah Jones) which of course brings more expectation from fans and critics. But the fact is that Ward hasn't changed his approach a whole lot over the years.

There is a brighter sound on this record that is no doubt a result of his experience and confidence as a producer, both of his own and others' works. The arrangements are more varied and ornate, but he's savvy enough to know that all the sonic bells-and-whistles are no substitute for a good song. The "She & Him" project was obviously a lot of fun, and some of that sense of fun pervades more upbeat songs like "Never Had Nobody Like You." And of course, there's lots of great guitar work, from lovely, intimate solo acoustic moments, to the fretwork fireworks on "To Save Me."

But above all, there are still a handful of truly great songs, which seem to come from the mists of time, bridging Tin Pan Alley, backporch Americana, and shambling indie rock, where the ghosts of Mississippi John Hurt and John Fahey mingle with contemporary influences and collaborators Vic Chesnutt, Lucinda Williams and Howe Gelb. And there are some that are just merely good, that sound similar to too many other past M. Ward songs, but familiarity, in this case, breeds comfort rather than contempt.

And of course, he is still has a brilliant ear for interpreting the work of others; the airy, delicious cover of Buddy Holly's "Rave On" is, for this listener, the absolute highlight of the record, just as his revelatory cover of David Bowie's "Let's Dance" first demonstrated how effortlessly he can take someone else's song and make it his own.

It may not be his best overall recording, but it still stands head and shoulders above most of what's on offer from today's "popular music" artists. And make no mistake, pop music is what M.Ward is about, just as Irving Berlin, Hank Williams, Lee Hazlewood and Brian Wilson were before him. I'm sure he doesn't mind being in that kind of company.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2009
This is my first introduction to M. Ward. Reading the reviews and listening to samples of other albums, I can see how some might think this is just more of the same - but for me, it's new and fresh and brilliant. By the third time through Hold Time (and it really lends itself to listening all the way through, especially with headphones) I was sold - atmospheric, warm, catchy, intelligent, just a GREAT sound. It's very 'now' yet also timeless, hard to place in any particular era, which makes me think I'll be enjoying this 5, 10, 15 years from now as well.

And for just five bucks (limited offer from Amazon)? No brainer - get it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2010
This is stop Number Seven on the Ward Highway (if you count "To Go Home") and delivery Number Ten if you count the Monsters of Folk and his two great albums with Zooey. I had the opportunity to hear Matt roll Hold Time out in a concert in Eugene, Oregon and my goodness, what a treat. Gathered around the stage, everyone just got sucked into his soulful vortex as one amazing song after another issued forth. I have long suspected that he was a philosophy major in college (San Luis Cal Poly?) and when he started in on "Epistemology" my wonder turned into near certainty (philosophy majors are never ever completely certain of anything except musical genius when they hear and see it). Who would even know to title a song EPISTEMOLOGY except a philosophy major and who could play an intro guitar riff like the one that begins and ends his lecture on epistemology except a musical genius who continues to evolve and develop as the years and albums go by. So what is this amazing man's theory of knowledge? Ha, I thought you'd never ask: putting one foot in front of the other, doing his very best, and the rest is anyone's guess. Clearly he studied the Zen masters at school and as his musical muse continues to pour forth he just gets deeper and deeper and deeper into a musical journey that promises to find him at the top of the mountain in the end. We also caught him in Portland with the Monsters of Folk where he opened the show with Lotta Losing, jamming in the spotlight on the piano. It was an amazing moment in time. Connor took the mike and thanked Portland for this incredible man, this incredible genius, M Ward and then Matt settled in with 2,000 of his best friends for an unforgetable evening. They played for three hours and it felt like twenty minutes. I learned that being in the presence of a genius like Matt compresses time into a blitz montage experience. You emerge a different person. We also caught him on Austin City Limits where he was his usual amazing self, playijng primarily tunes of Post War. Hold Time is Matt's best album yet and I have said that after each of his previous seven offerings. But truth for telling, his best album is the next one. A genius is a genius and there is "nobody" like Matt, we (the planet) have never had nobody like Matt (yeah, yeah). Nobody. What you need to do is go back to the first offering and work your way through to Hold Time. THE WARD HIGHWAY: It's the greatest novel ever written with many, many more fantastic chapters yet to come. Purity is rarely found in this world and as Matt stumbles along, putting one chord in front of the other, and one meaningful phrase next to the last one, we can only stand in amazement because what is coming next would be anyone's guess. I'll hazzard a guess, what the heck: it will be another dazzling display of soulful genius that just keeps getting deeper and deeper, traveling further and further into the musical muse which is Matt Ward. Watching him in person you can tell he is not impressed at all by himself and he comes across as shy, sincere, and a very quiet and thoughtful man with an incredible sense of humor and ironic insight into the condition of man. A philosopher, yes, with piano and guitar riffs that shake the very foundations of beauty. Matt puts the mystery and magic back into "guessing" what's coming next. I can hardly wait to find out.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2009
I don't remember being particularly overwhelmed by M. Ward's last album, Post War, but apparently teaming up with Zooey Deschanel on 2008's She & Him has sparked something in the guy. Hold Time, his newest release finds the singer/songwriter operating in peak form. His style hasn't changed too much. He still glides through his familiar brand of acoustic folk pop with occasional detours into country and blues, but he sounds confident and energized in his songwriting this time. Just about every song on this set works and lingers with you like the warm glow of the setting sun. It doesn't hurt that Ward brings Zooey in to help out on a couple of songs (I'm already looking forward to She & Him's next album) and it also benefits him when Lucinda Williams drops by to contribute vocals. So far, this is one of the best albums of the young year. I guess M. Ward just needed to find his muse in order to realize his potential.
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on July 9, 2009
M. Ward is a man trapped in time, stuck in the Oughts but enamored of the music from long ago. Strikingly spare, most M. Ward recordings have a lo-fi grime about them that does not embrace the current hi-def fidelity that some crave. His guitar playing is based on traditional finger picking, using space and tone rather than filling a song with a million notes and chord progressions. In some ways you could say he was a throwback to simpler times where your worth was based on your ability to craft and nurture a song rather than create something instantly disposable. I would think that should be a value worth preserving in a performer.

On M. Ward's new album `Hold Time,' M. Ward embraces the timeless traditions of former troubadours and creates an album that is steeped in the past but also manages to look forwards. `Hold Time' is a concise listen that features M. Ward's mixed bag of melodies and compositions. Opening track, "Never Had Nobody Like You" is a breezy bit of pop with a guitar riff that initially recalled Steely Dan's "Reelin' In The Years" before mutating into a greasy blues. "Jailbird" is a melancholic strum of a song sung with a sigh before leading into the funereal title track that deadpans about a lost relationship.

Then the album takes a twist and becomes invigorated with a cover of Buddy Holly's "Rave On" followed by a sister song in "To Save Me." The country blues of "Fisher of Men" receives a droll take before leading into a cover of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me." "Oh Lonesome Me" was also covered by Neil Young and thankfully did not feature a craggy Lucinda Williams singing along. After this track, it seems that Ward stumbles through "Epistemology" before regaining his footing with "Blake's View" and "Shangri-La." M. Ward closes the album with "Outro" a warm fuzz drenched instrumental that lingers long after the last note is played.
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on February 25, 2009
This album hasn't exactly blown me away yet, but I expect it to work on me, like all m.ward albums do. There is definitely something different about this album, but I think that it is actually the exact same.

m.ward, after the She and Him album, seems to be more open to producing. Breaking from the lo-fi tradition he's used on most previous albums, Post-war marking the deviation, I think this is his first real stab at true production.

By that I mean this- m.ward has a history of nods to the beach boys, but also to Phil Spector. It is strange that he would have been so deeply interested in these two, yet 'underproduce' a lot of his stuff. In this album, we are seeing Ward's actualization of his love of the 'Wall of Sound.' And that, I think will pave way to his success even more.

I thoroughly enjoy his entire oeuvre, but over time, much of the older stuff gets, well, old. One might think him a one-trick pony. This album proves otherwise.

I enjoyed this album through the first listen, and was getting anxious, wanting to go back and listen to some of the songs again, before finishing. My favorites are 'For Beginners,' 'Shangri-La,' and 'One Hundred Million Years.'

I'd recommend this one for those new to m.ward, as they are probably the most accessible, though Post-war is as well. I'd recommend this first however, because his best has been his older stuff, but that is less easy to get into.

This album is still m.ward, even with all the production, longtime fans may be confused perhaps, but not disappointed.

I'm going to call this album a transition; his next one I think will be stellar!

And not really having heard Lucinda Williams before to my knowledge, the track with her was interesting to say the least. It sounded like Ward was performing with a female Tom Waits! And I feel like she'd be about as easy to get into as Tom Waits, in every sense of the phrase. It's funny seeing this pairing on the same album that Zooey appears on as well!
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M. Ward's profile continues to grow bigger and bigger. Last year's "She and Him" collaboration with Zooey Deschanel found major critical acclaim (and decent commercial sales) and already M. Ward returns with a new solo album, his fifth, following 2006's excellent "Post-War".

"Hold Time" (14 tracks; 45 min.) builds on "Post-War" nicely, while not ignoring the "She & Him" imprint. The opener "For Beginners" sets the tone beautifully, with luscious acoustic guitars. The title track feels like a sun-drenched pensive tune. "To Save Me" is, of all things, a delightful throw-back to the Beach Boys 60s-era sound. It may sound out of place, but somehow it works. Deschanel kicks in vocals on 2 tracks, "Never Had Nobody Like You" and the Buddy Holy cover "Rave On", another highlight. The tracks rolls on, and this album is a delight from start to finish. I should also mention the instrumental closer "Outro (I'm A Fool TO Want You", which feels like it's being played on a lonely place somewhere in the desert, it's one of the best tracks on the album, actually.

In all, "Hold Time" is an excellent album that really takes you in, and you'll wanna play this again and again. I haven't had the opportunity yet to see M. Ward in concert, and I can only hope to catch him sometime soon. Can't wait what these songs will sound like in a live setting. "Hold Time" is highly recommended!
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14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2009
I love M. Ward -- and this effort is better than most other recent releases by lesser musicians -- but his latest sounds very generic, uninspired and just plain "safe" to me. I give it a tepid 3 stars (after all, it is an M. Ward album), but I think it is his weakest effort by far.

It almost sounds like a parody of himself (similar to how Beck's "Guerra" played like a parody of his excellent "Odelay"). Just compare "Hold Time" to "Transfiguration of Vincent" -- admittedly a tough act to follow -- and the newer one pales in comparison.

For one thing, the production is way too slick and puts too much distance between M. Ward and his listeners. But his covers (including "Rave On") sound more like good karaoke than imaginative recreations, the way his Bowie cover "Let's Dance" really takes hold of the listener and even improves on the original.

I'm underwhelmed, but it's still a decent album.
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VINE VOICEon April 14, 2009
M. Ward manages to do something on "Hold Time" that many artists try, but few are able to pull off: he makes a thoroughly contemporary record sound like it came from the heyday of the folk/rock movement. His voice is subdued, his delivery restrained, the musicianship exquisite.

Some of this love of the past is shown in the choice of covers: the instrumental version of Sinatra's "I'm a Fool to Want You;" Buddy Holly's "Rave On," and Don Gibson's classic "Oh Lonesome Me" (a duet with Lucinda Williams). Ward's She & Him partner Zooey Deschanel appears on a couple tracks as well, singing superb harmony. HOLD TIME as a whole is a stellar album, though Ward truly excels at the rockabilly: "Never Had Nobody Like You" and "Jailbird" especially, though his masterful reworking of "Oh Lonesome Me" completely reinvents the song; the new melody is as haunting and timeless as Gibson's lyrics. HOLD TIME is an album meant to be listened to closely and carefully; it's homage to the past, but also (hopefully) a glimpse of the future of music as well.
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