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M. Ward
Duet for Guitars #2

Rating: 7.4/10 ?

July 10, 2007
Although it is a re-release of an album that originally saw daylight in 1999, M. Ward's first solo offering sounds fresh and new and stands rather neatly next to the rest of his recordings. Although obviously tied more tightly to the style of his acoustic early work, the stunning acoustic guitar and thoughtful lyrics still stand out in Ward's first songs. Like his other records, this one really makes you work but the lo-fi intimacy builds the sense of rough affection. The soft buzzing and vocal and instrumental harmonies add the subtle touches to these small gems (not one track lasts more than 3:15).

It is clear that Ward could have rock out on his debut, but the quiet tracks sound so intimate that the don't justify it. The delicate acoustic picking favorably compares with heroes John Fahey and Jim O'Rourke, and Ward's voice, which can take some time to warm to, has that poor man's soul feel to it. Although this record lacks the standout tracks of later efforts, Ward's pure acoustic songcraft had already taken root by Duet, the guitar so warm and rhythmical and his melodies able keep on spinning in your head long after the record has stopped.

After the requisite instrumental track ("Duet for Guitars #2"), Ward's thoughtful narrative jumps in with simple beautiful melody. And as soon as you've you gotten a chance to get into it, the quick 2:37 tune is over. "I was washing antique cars, working part-time for my dad after-school/ when I got the go-ahead to pick a car and spin around the neighborhood/ It was a baby blue '52 Roadstar/ (It was a beautiful car)." The song has the light fragility that Ward would revisit later, but he hasn't yet topped the simplicity of this narrative.

My only real gripe with the record is when Ward strays too far from the lo-fi acoustic two-mic sound. The tracks "Fishing Boat Song" and "Look Me Over" lead with a different foot and seem a bit jarring each time they follow their intimate tracks. It seems like Ward wasn't quite ready to dive so deeply into the electric world that he's since become more comfortable. Even the sometimes-overbearing electric guitar and drums in these tracks can't obscure a good melody. It's not as though he added 50 dubs, but the tracks nonetheless make you appreciate the simple acoustic ones.

Another little gem, "He Asked Me To Be A Snake & Live Underground" highlights Ward's gorgeous melody instincts. The song clocks in at 1:19 and it's the perfect one to play on repeat. "O! Redemption is a pure signal! It's high in the pines like a bald eagle!/ (But I've only seen it once or twice)/ And He wanted me to follow but I fell down/
So He asked me to be a Snake and Live Underground." This song is so playful that you can't help but want to clap along. It feels a lot like to Basement-era Dylan with the sing-along chorus and tossed-off production.

Ward has developed a consistent body of work and the re-release of his debut displays a prequel on par with his later work. Although End of Amnesia would refine these tunes, considerable talent was mined for Duet for Guitars #2 if only a few thousand heard it. Sometimes it takes us time to come around to the nascent depth of talent apparent in this release. No track is wasted and no harmony out of place. In a crowded sea of singer/songwriters M.Ward's attention to craft and years of toil make this, like each of his other releases, essential.

Reviewed by Jeff McMahon
No biographical information is currently available.

See other reviews by Jeff McMahon



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