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Album: M Ward, Hold Time (4AD)

Each album sees Matt Ward edge closer to the mainstream, but also finds the guitarist cut further adrift from the sublime folk-blues picking that made his reputation.

Hold Time's songs are mostly buried in arrangements whose ambitions echo Spector and Wilson rather than Patton or Dylan. The constant is Ward's warm but ragged voice, the saving grace for several songs on which those ambitions disturb the equilibrium that was a crucial element of earlier albums. The two guitars, harmonium and handclaps of "For Beginners" make a charming opener, the first of several expressions of Christianity, but with "Never Had Nobody Like You", Ward plunges into a lolloping glam-rock boogie almost as ill-fitting as "To Save Me", which Ward and Grandaddy's Jason Lytle bury in a welter of hammered Beach Boys piano, castanets, tympani and nasty-sounding synth ostinatos. A cover of Buddy Holly's "Rave On" is devoid of raving instincts, while Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" is more sensitively rendered in a duet with Lucinda Williams. The best tracks are generally the simplest, particularly the swoonsome "Outro" and "Jailbird", a death song that gets lighter and more uplifting the closer the prisoner gets to the noose.

Pick of the album:'For Beginners', 'Jailbird', 'Outro'

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