Had M. Ward recorded an album titled A Wasteland, listeners wouldn’t have thought twice. Another melancholy record from folk’s most loved loners. Instead, M. Ward created A Wasteland Companion and that third word makes all the difference.
“When I was a younger man I thought that pain and defeat would last forever, but now I don’t know what it would take to make my heart back down ” Ward reveals as he opens the album on “Clean Slate (For Alex & El Goodo).” Dedicated to Alex Chiton of Big Star and his classic “Ballad of El Goodo,” Ward shows that a companion can be a song or an idea as well as a person. Even loners have things that get them through the tough times.
A Wasteland Companion contains plenty of Ward’s hazy vocals and bittersweet guitar, but his companions on this album (there are too many guest musicians to list here individually) each add a bit of sunshine to Ward’s world. Susan Sanchez’s backing vocals on “Primitive Girl” are exemplary of this.
In addition to the brighter tones, Ward also picks up the tempo often on this record. His cover of Louis Armstrong’s “I Get Ideas” is so energetic that he’s going to have to make sure to book venues with dance floors on his next tour. Mix this in with some gorgeous ballads on the album’s latter half and it makes A Wasteland Companion Ward’s most varied and vibrant album to date.
Ward has always been notoriously shy, but he’s learned to open up a little and appreciate those around him. A Wasteland Companion reflects his personal growth and welcomes listeners with open arms.
A Wasteland Companion is out April 10 on Merge Records.
M. Ward will play the Page Auditorium on May 15. Tickets are $22-$28 or $5 with a Duke student ID.