M Ward has been putting out albums since 1999, but only really grabbed my attention last year with his collaboration with Zooey Deschanel, the gorgeous and timeless 'She & Him, Volume One'. 'Hold Time' is his sixth solo album and from the outset it feels like long-time fans are going to get exactly what they're expecting. The album contains 14 folk-pop nuggets,which are rough around the edges with their home-recorded feel.
Opener, 'For Beginners' offers sparse acoustic work and doesn't really get things moving too quickly, though repeated listens would suggest it's very traditional Ward, with it's 60s influnced shuffle. Zooey Deschanel makes a very welcome appearence on backing vocals for 'Never Had Nobody Like You', giving extra depth and warmth. It's farther on, though, where the album gets really interesting with a mid-paced cover of Buddy Holly's 'Rave On', which feels like something from the She & Him Sessions. The title track focuses on droning sounds and a troubled vocal. Whilst very Mercury Rev, it also recalls a darkness present underneath the mid-late 60s work of Brian Wilson (an influence also clearly present in the very upbeat 'To Save Me', featuring guest vocals by Jason Lytle of Grandaddy).
The acoustic pop of 'Jailbird' and demo sounding acoustic folk of 'One Hundred Years' are both classic Ward; while the old country chick-a-boom of 'Fisher of Men' and a duet with Lucinda Williams on a cover of Don Gibson's 'Oh Lonesome Me' suits the overall mood of the record perfectly. In fact, during early plays of the album, despite not being entirely consistent, it feels like there's no real filler here and it's fragile feel has charm. It may not feel as good as 1996's 'Post War', but given time, that could change. If you're a fan of M Ward's previous work, you'll probably own this by now. As for everyone else, if you like Giant Sand and other country and folk stuff with lo-fi qualities, you may want to give this a go. It's hard to imagine M Ward is ever going to break through to mainstream superstardom, but his place as a cult folk/country/pop hero, alongside the likes of Conor Oberst seems unshakable.