Though March has yet to provide us with any real hints of spring, thoughts of budding tulips, warm sunshine and birds returning home from a long winter's migration are not far from mind when listening to M. Ward's latest. Transistor Radio is so breezy and nostalgic, it's enough to get anybody through these last bitter, blustery weeks.
Ward's sound is known for being synonymous with the past, and for revisiting the warmest sounds of yesteryear with simple instrumentation and a voice that is coarse, but also genuinely sweet. He strives to keep his music reflective of bygone days, dipping his finger into classic blues, country and folk and taking careful measures to keep it sounding true to form, while also maintaining a new and unique style of writing.
Transistor Radio is his third solo effort, a natural progression following 2003's breakthrough, The Transfiguration of Vincent. On Vincent, his strikingly original cover of David Bowie's "Let's Dance" made it obvious that Ward was concerned with crediting the past, but not necessarily replicating it. Transistor Radio is no different. It opens with an instrumental acoustic version of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds favorite "You Still Believe in Me," a friendly reminder that summertime is coming soon enough. Be patient.
At times, you can almost hear the crackle of an old record in the background, especially on "One Life Away," where the voices sound appropriately muffled in an old-timey manner that echoes the theme of the sentimental folk song. Though Ward's songs are simple enough -- never weighed down with anything unnecessary -- his arrangements and instrumentation are suited perfectly to each song, as in "Paul's Song," where a pedal steel harmonizes with the acoustic guitar, and in "Big Boat," where a piano chimes out old-time rock 'n' roll chords while Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis sounds bright and jazzy on backup vocals.
And as the cold wind blows its last couple of howls outside our windows, pay special attention to "Here Comes the Sun Again," where Ward reminds us, "Snow banks and drifts down the hillside for you / Slides inside Sandy River before the day is through / And before evening falls I may find myself there too / Singin', 'Here comes the sun again ...'"