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INDIE ROCK

He stands the test of time

(Annie Musselman)
February 16, 2009
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M. Ward

Hold time

Merge

ESSENTIAL "Oh Lonesome Me"

The idea of listening to M. Ward on an MP3 player almost seems wrong. On his fourth album, "Hold Time," the indie troubadour spins out his trademark blend of vintage country-folk that begs to be played on an old turntable and heard through the screen door. Fortunately, great music transcends its medium.

Ward's collection of bitter, sweet, haunting, and joyous odes, sung in his dusky whisper, feel like they've arrived from another time. But like his similarly sepia-drenched 2008 collaboration with actress Zooey Deschanel, She and Him, the sound fits easily in the here and now.

"Jailbird" laments a date with the hangman in an echo-laden cell. A man puts his faith in things he can believe in as the river rolls by in time to Ward's nimble finger-picking on "One Hundred Million Years." Two lonely lovers manage to duet without ever suggesting a hint of connection on the gloriously melancholy and ragged "Oh Lonesome Me." (It doesn't hurt that Lucinda Williams is the one offering up the female side.) A kick in the pants arrives in the form of a glam-rock groove on the giddily romantic "Never Had Nobody Like You."

Ultimately, Ward is for people who like to immerse themselves in music instead of taking disposable bites of it. And as long as those types of listeners exist, "Hold Time" will hold up, no matter what the next generation of technology may be. (Out tomorrow) - SARAH RODMAN

M. Ward plays a sold-out show at the Somerville Theatre on Wednesday.

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