Transistor Radio – M. Ward

Label: Matador

A striking lone-guitar re-reading of Brian Wilson’s ‘You Still Believe In Me’ kicks off the album in typically fiddly, prodigious Ward form and another beguiling guitar instrumental, J.S. Bach’s “The Well Tempered Clavier“ concludes it. Why? Because Ward is by and large a guitar player. Leatherfaced, intense, weatherbeaten and graced with the rasp of a 60-day-smoker, Ward began his low profile career with the San Luis Obispo-based and Jason Lytle produced alt-country combo, Rodriguez, and whilst his love of all things classical and antique continues, there’s a significant lapse in the quality department for fourth album, Transistor Radio – inspired somewhat predictably by an era coming to terms with the shocking white-flash of the future. Yes, there’s plenty to celebrate here; ‘Fuel For Fire’ crackles like the cabin log-fire it’s so patently inspired by, ‘Hi-Fi’ wriggles harmoniously across the dial, ‘Four Hours In Washington’ rankles and burns with the grizzled, erotic darkness and humidity of New Orleans and feisty Flamenco instrumental provides a tasty surf’s up on instrumental, ‘Regeneration No.1’. The problem (if it really is one, given the album’s considerable – if haphazard- strengths) is the restless ease with which Ward cobbles together half-realised snatches of other ideas like ‘Big Boat’ , ‘Radio Campaign’, ‘Deep Dark Well’ and ‘Oh Take Me Back’ and forces them queerly into a loose and dishevelled driftwood kind of order – which although bearing some degree of likeness to fiddling with the radio-dial more clearly defines a lack of structure and arrangement ideas. The fact that Ward re-enlists pretty lo-fi classics like ‘I’ll Be Yr Bird’ from his long-forgotten debut, Duet for Guitars vol2 perhaps confirms this lack of direction, even if this hand-to-mouth approach does yield such tremulous and tender gems as ‘Paul’s Songs’ on occasion.

As an introduction to Ward’s fiery yet unassuming alt-country genius you’d be better off listening to albums like ‘End Of Amnesia’ but as an extended exploration of his distressed and reclaimed materials, it’s nothing if not magical.

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Release: M. Ward - Transistor Radio
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Released: 24 March 2005