A Folksy Confidante
M. Ward’s eighth solo studio album A Wasteland Companion shows the singer-songwriter at his finest. After releasing a slew of solo albums, a record with Monsters of Folk, and three albums under the moniker She & Him with Zooey Deschanel, it’s a refreshing change to see Ward on his own again.
A Wasteland Companion is, as its name suggests, perfect accompaniment for those feeling a little somber or heartbroken. Ward’s warm acoustic guitar and hazy vocals create an intimate atmosphere on the album’s opener “Clean Slate (for Alex & El Goodo),” a feel-good folk song with just the right amount of melancholy. Ward almost sounds like Iron & Wine, with his finger-picked guitar’s twanging tones overlapping layers of harmonic chords.
The album shows Ward reaching into different genres—Americana and bucolic folk songs, bright-eyed pop and romantic ballads. There’s the shallow retro-pop of “Primitive Girl” and the shuffling, old-time rockabilly of “I Get Ideas” (a cover of an old tune popularized by Louis Armstrong and Desi Arnaz), stretching Ward’s stylistic range across time and genre.
The album’s weakest tracks are “Me & My Shadow” and “Sweetheart,” two nods to She & Him featuring Deschanel. “Me & My Shadow”, with its layers of melodic guitars and rocking Western feel, doesn’t particularly need the doe-eyed singer’s help. “Sweetheart”, on the other hand, is a perfect saccharine pop song for the duo and, therefore, flippant and out of place on A Wasteland Companion.
Better are the album’s quiet moments; tracks like “The First Time I Ran Away”, “There’s the Key”, and the excellent title track featuring a slow, country-folk guitar twanging to gentle percussion. It’s the blues distilled and gentle, garnished with just a hint of vibrato strings to set the mood. The poignant piano of “Crawl After You,” a ballad about lost love complete with soaring violins, complements the folksy “Wild Goose” with its steel guitar and warm, melodic chords.
A Wasteland Companion shows Ward’s flourishing talent as a songwriter and his ability to exist beyond the bright, indie-pop confines of She & Him and the supergroup of Monster of Folk. It’s stripped down, more honest, more intimate—a true companion for wherever you might be traveling, wasteland or not.