Matt Ward's luminous new CD is a faded message from a beautiful dream that begins to dissipate in our memory the moment we awake. A postcard sent from the age of innocence that reminds us of how uncorrupted we once were. Deja vu for the jaded generation living in the age of corruption, lies and Bushspeak. "Transistor Radio" is the appropriate title because it evokes the age of poplar music, when the means of listening to portable music consisted of one ear pressed against transistor radio. Long ago we could be dazzled by the beauty of song that shimmered through the static of a distant signal picked up by a transistor radio. This modern world is different and everything we do is defined by high tech digital overkill and electronic elitism. Today's commerical music is defined by the use of I-pods, headphones, and all of the attendant bells,whistles and electronic gadgetry, yet none of the music resonates with the power of those long forgotten chestnuts we heard on our transistor radios. The power of M. Ward is the his sincerity and reverence for the finely sculpted musical material and pre-digital studio techniques that many Gap generation fashionistas would regard as retrograde. Those who dismiss the charm of Ward's music, are the same folks who rely music telvision and youth targeted advertising to tell them what is hip. To his credit, M. Ward distances himself from those who buy into the megacorporate definition of "alternative" rock.
Some of Ward's originals and well chosen covers (including the vintage Louis Armstrong jewel, "Sweethearts On Parade") contain a timeless quality and warm analogical fidelity of Smithsonian field recording. The rock oriented material has charming "first-take, no redos" production quality that echoes the old garage band ethic: your first take of a song will always be the most spontaneous and heartfelt take of the recording session, no matter how ragged it sounds. "Regeneration #1" has the reckless abandon of surf band gone berserk on L.S.D. "Big Boat" sounds like an outtake from a 1956 rockabilly session at Sun Records. "Paul's Song", "Radio Song" and "Here Comes the Sun Again" are the kind of winsome songs that M. Ward excels at. Ward's plaintive vocals and the sparse instrumentation are blissful. His musical command of country, blues, jazz fretwork recalls the complexity of John Fahey's self-styled "primative American guitar."
The enigmatic M. Ward has been around for nearly a decade, counting his time with the trio, Rodriquez. Mainstream popularity has eluded Ward, but I doubt he entertains any illusions about the desirability of commercial success. Like many indie artists, Ward has seemed content to remain on the fringe of popular music playing to a handful of loyal fans. "Transistor Radio" may change Ward's cult hero status, whether he likes it or not. It's simply an album that is too good to escape the attention of a broader audience. If "Transistor Radio" makes a star of him, it's a good bet that M. Ward will not modify his unique talents to meet the demands of the marketplace. It's a reassuring that M. Ward may well build something like a career as a musician on his own terms. It would be a remarkable feat, in the hostile environment of today's megacorporate, Dow Jones driven pop music market, run by the Axis of Evil: the six major international music labels.