West Coast singer-songwriter brings guitar and modernity to Billie Holiday
M. Ward or Matthew Ward is an old soul. Yes, he’s from progressive Los Angeles and Portland. Yes, he’s the second part of the duo She & Him with pop culture icon Zooey Deschanel. But he also records all his songs on the same analog recorder he’s had since childhood. He also has an infatuation with older music. Wards recalls his brother teaching him Beatles songs on the guitar at age 15, the catalyst to his eventual music career. In addition, he developed an affinity for the jazz/big band musicians of the 1940s and ’50s specifically for Ms. Billie Holiday. His appreciation for her grew so big in fact, that he decided to release a cover/tribute album to her by the name of Think Of Spring. Each song is either a direct cover or slight adaptation from Holiday’s catalog of work.
The album kicks off with a light and airy piece easing people into the music with “I Get Along With You Very Well.” The narrator, here, promises that he has moved on, that he doesn’t feel the heartache he once did; except for when the leaves blow, he is reminded of “being sheltered in your arms.” With great attention to detail and emotion, the track continues to navigate his post-relationship fallout accompanied solely by a dampened guitar.
Next, people come to one of Holiday’s biggest songs from her original album, “For Heaven’s Sake.” Ward trades big band aspects—upright basses, grand pianos and horns—for the same guitar that listeners heard in “I Get Along With You Very Well.” In one of the more popular songs on the album, “You’ve Changed” marks the most different track on Think Of Spring. Though similar sounding and lacking many lyrics just as the others do, Ward somehow gets this song to come across in a new way. Whether this “difference” comes from his stark words, a variation of his cadence or another intangible, the change is there.
About three fourths of the way through the album, people are greeted by two songs, “For All We Know” and “All the Way,” both of which have proven to be the best-selling songs on the record since its release. Ward’s folk side shines in the first of the two with slightly quicker plucking from the guitar that has carried this entire album. Citing the unknown of the world, the narrator convinces a woman to stay because “for all we know…tomorrow may never come.” “All The Way” sounds like a continuation or a part two for “For All We Know.” Keeping the same folksy twang, this track examines what should and shouldn’t happen in a relationship. He recalls past connections that didn’t quite pan out because they didn’t love each other “all the way.” To really hear this album and see what Ward is trying to do, this is the song that should be listened to.
Michael Ward is an incredible talent with a lot to offer the world. That being said, talents have their misses. Bob Dylan has his Self Portrait album. Tom Brady has Super Bowl XLVI. Spielberg has “Twilight Zone: The Movie.” Think Of Spring is Ward’s miss. Billie Holiday is still celebrated for her vibrance and complexity, which is something that is not captured in this particular cover album. Sticking to a single instrument and many of the same note/chord progressions in song after song, it seems like some of the magic of Holiday’s aura was lost. Now, this album may sound magical to different ears. However, for what it is—a cover album—when emotion is lost from one cover to another, it has not done its job, and as unfortunate as it is, Think Of Spring has done just that.