By Conner Jensen
Singer-songwriter Matthew Ward, better known by his stage name M. Ward, is a solo artist from Portland, Oregon that’s bringing his own flair to the folk music scene. With a blues-inspired sound and a slew of instruments backing him, it’s no surprise to see him returning to the music scene with the release of his eighth solo album More Rain. Ward started this album back in 2012 while attempting to make a doo-wop record by layering his voice. After collaboration with some well-known artists, including R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, the sound of the album adapted a rainy-day mood to it, making the title only fitting.
This album begins with the title song, which serves as a minute-long segue into the song following it. “More Rain” has no words in it and includes mostly the sounds of rain, winds and chimes, setting the tone for the beginning of the album. The sounds from the intro are joined by a guitar harmoniously strumming along with the sounds of the storm. Ward soon joins in singing a song of longing, titled “Pirate Dial,” which is later backed by a harmony of synthesizer and light percussion. The waning sounds of the harmony makes for an uplifting yet somber mood to move forward into the album. The song closes with the fading of the synthesizer and the falling of rain.
Without skipping a beat, “Time Won’t Wait” begins. It starts with a steady bass line that develops into a force of bluesy rock n’ roll sounds. Ward harmonizes with a woman throughout this song, adding flair to the sound that enlightens the overall tone and contrasts with the heavy bass line. Ward also utilizes the layering of his own voice throughout the song, making for a sound that was truly his own. Much the like the abrupt beginning, the end comes with no prior warning and ends with a brief moment of silence. “Confession,” the single that teased this album release, follows next. It starts with a mellow bass line and cymbal-based percussion. Ward’s variation of pitch between the verse and the chorus adds a calming contrast to the predominant sound of the song. The introduction of the trumpet at the end of the song is a strong finish to this vibe-filled groove.
“Confession” fades gracefully into “I’m Listening,” which starts at a slower pace than the previous songs, begins with the slow tempo melody of guitar, cymbals and mandolin. This slow folky sound is reminiscent of sounds heard from Mumford & Sons, while also adding a bluesy flair with the interjection of electric bass throughout. Ward is accompanied with “doo-wop” in the background of his vocal pieces, creating a pleasingly melancholy tone the listener is sure to pick up on. The song fades together with the final note being played by the guitar and then silence following to set up “Girl from Conejo Valley.” This song adapts a more country flair to the overall folk sound that the artist is known for, which is almost immediately announced by the guitar that begins the song. The song then develops into a mix of synthesizer, percussion and bass to introduce the first verse. During the verse, the strumming of the guitar is the predominant sound, and Ward tells a story of his old girlfriend that he is clearly longing for. However, the harmony creates a tone that indicates that while Ward longs for this girl, he has clearly accepted the loss but still looks back on the memories of this woman. Instrumentals of waning synthesizer backed by the harmony riddle the song, making for a refreshingly new sound.
After this song fades out, “Slow Driving Man” begins. As indicated by the title, this song starts out very slow, and it soon becomes apparent that this is to emphasize the story being told in the song. The slow strumming of the strings and the steady beat of the drum set back the verses throughout the song. The chorus has a swelling sound, with Ward elongating his singing and the music beginning to rise in volume. However, this doesn’t build into anything but rather slows back down into the sound that was present prior to the chorus, maintaining the slow, peaceful sound that marks the halfway point into this rainy day full of lungful memories. Piano, percussion and violin close out the story of the slow driving man, and fade into “You’re So Good to Me.” The song begins with a slightly muffled sound of piano and guitar being played in an upbeat, summer-time fashion. The sound then becomes a clear, thumping sound, dominated by guitar as Ward starts the first verse. The song begins to develop a light-hearted ballet, complete with “doo-wops” and the summer-time sound that was originally muffled in the beginning. Surf rock style instrumentals close out this sunny song, which set the stage for “Temptation.”
Like most of the faster paced songs of this album, this song takes no time to wait before starting in with a heavy bass line and the first verse. This song takes on more of the surf-rock sound while still maintaining some crucial elements of folk. Along with the typical arrangement of instruments, the trumpet makes another appearance during the chorus. The sounds of this song blend together into an array of genre-bending harmonies that take the listener on a miniature auditory roller coaster. “Phenomenon” slows things down again with a country-folk blend of strings. This tempo allows Ward to showcase more of his range than he previously has throughout this album. The tempo remains fairly consistent throughout the song, slowing things down to prepare for the closing of the work. This song has a lighter tone, as have most the songs near the end, as if the sun is rising up as the rainy season begins to come to an end.
“Little Baby” begins with a mild guitar sound harmonizing with Ward’s layered vocals, which make up the “doo-wop” sounds that accompany him throughout the song. This is a song of reflection, with the lyrics asking a child to teach the singer, as if to purify him from all the things that he no longer wants in his life, as well as what a baby has never had in their life. This song maintains the melancholy brightness that the previous songs have encompassed, which is maintained in the final song “I’m Going Higher.” This song is faster-paced than the previous two, serving as a nice contrast, as well as a more uplifting ending to the album. Ward’s lyrics have an uplifting message that one day he’ll be lifted up high despite all the dark things he’s done. There is a predominant rock n’ roll sound with a flair of Ward’s own that creates an uplifting and bright close to the album. The brightening in the end brings this album full circle from the introduction sound of a storm.
Ward’s incredible musical talent makes for a truly masterful album that will leave fans in a refreshed and reflective mind state. The motif of rain storms and the gradual clearing of the storm through the album create an auditory journey of self-reflection and relaxation. Ward brings a storm on More Rain, and when he clears the clouds you’ll be anxiously waiting for another rainy day.