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M. Ward

When you listen to the complex and wonderful acoustic guitar work that opens many M. Ward compositions and acts as the spine to all, you think you're listening to a virtuosic and innovative devotee of old country and folk music, a la John Fahey. And to a certain extent you are, but then you hear Ward's hushed, odd, sandpapery voice, imbued with a kind of sepia nostalgia, yet current at the same time, and your perspective begins to change. As Ward's strings twang busily, resonant with their own action, a pedal steel guitar moans, a hall piano line tinkles in and out, and muted horns blare in the distance. Those sounds aren't surprising in the context, though they do heighten the stark, desolate mood. What makes things even stranger, though, are the sounds you wouldn't expect: faint scratched vinyl, little squeals of feedback, little streams of burbling electronics, and unidentifiable distorted sounds that at different times could be someone sawing wood, peeling carrots, or trying to play a broken instrument.

While Fahey, CSNY, and Townes Van Zandt all serve as obvious touchpoints for Ward's work, he is most obviously similar to a contemporary, Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous. Both are obviously avid students of the history of American acoustic music, who seek to make it their own by approaching it from an indie rock perspective and embellishing it with distinctively modern technology and their own sets of eccentricities. Like Linkous, Ward is making some of the most strikingly personal music around.

Ward began recording solo during his six year tenure with the band Rodriguez. At a 1999 show in Seattle, he passed a demo on to Giant Sand's Howe Gelb. Gelb quickly became enamored of the young singer-songwriter's brand of stark, weird folk music. Gelb released the first M. Ward album, Duet for Guitars #2, on his own Ow Om label. Two years later came the magnificent End of Amnesia on Future Farmer.