I'm tempted to buy M. Ward's latest on vinyl. Why? Because his sepia-toned vocals and orchestral backgrounds pockmarked with tinny electronics make it feel like a ghost best handled by vintage technology. The soulful folk of "One Hundred Million Years" especially begs for the crackle pop of needle on groove. In "Fisher of Men" you can hear the rambling, hollow chords that prove his claimed influence of Johnny Cash. And his twangy cover of "Oh Lonesome Me" featuring Lucinda Williams' gritty vocals needs breathing room digital can never give. But did the orchestral section need to be in this song? It seems overly done up.
Indie actress and singer Zooey Deschanel also backs up M. Ward in a few songs. In the warmly strummed "Rave On" her voice floats in a cloud of processed layers, but in "Never Had Nobody Like You" she gets a chance to show her clear, confident lungpower.
Hold Time finds M. Ward breaking out of his sullen hiding place and into a charismatic openness. The sincerity behind his varied styles—lonesome Appalachian and rockabilly undercurrents—is what's put this February release on everyone's list of top albums from NPR to Pitchfork. M. Ward hasn't lost his edge, just gained another intriguing dimension.