Certain artists raise a simple question: Can you blame someone for making the same album over and over again if that album is always really good? AC/DC, The Ramones, and Motörhead have all implored listeners to ask that question, and there’s a strong case to be made that M. Ward does as well. For over 15 years, he’s been giving the world reliably beautiful, thoughtful folk music that seems like it was transported to present day from, say, 1939. His latest album, More Rain, is no exception to the rule. But while listeners know what they’re getting with M. Ward by now, that doesn’t make the results any less enthralling.
To be clear, More Rain is far from identical to Ward’s previous releases. While his signature sound is undoubtedly intact, little flourishes separate it from the pack. Namely, this album is a bit more willing to embrace electronic instruments than past efforts. “I’m Going Higher” features an enthralling guitar solo, while “Girl From Conejo Valley” is quite possibly the first M. Ward song to use a synth. None of this would be quite enough to get Ward’s fans to yell “Judas!” when he busts these songs out live, but they do represent a rare willingness from Ward to leave his comfort zone.
But it wouldn’t be an M. Ward album without the reliable staples; namely, a lot of beautiful, atmospheric ballads. After the instrumental title track that begins the album, Ward moves into “Pirate Dial,” which paints an evocative image of a man talking to his long-distance love on a late-night drive. Elsewhere, “Phenomenon” is the type of acoustic love song that Ward has been giving fans for years; its predecessors include “Rollercoaster” from 2006’s Post-War and “Sad, Sad Song” from 2003’s Transfiguration Of Vincent.
Ward has a knack for including some excellent covers on his albums, including Daniel Johnston’s “To Go Home,” Hank Williams’ “Oh, Lonesome Me,” and most notably, his incredible acoustic rendition of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Here, he decides to add his signature touch to is The Beach Boys’ “You’re So Good To Me”— frankly, just about the perfect song for Ward to cover. His warm, sincere vocals give credibility to the “young-and-in-love” nature of the lyrics. Ward seems to just know which covers are going to suit him well, and this is no exception.
Ultimately, there are no true complaints to be found with this album. M. Ward took his usual formula and added a few new elements to prevent the proceedings from growing stale. The result is an album that rocks out a little more than its predecessors, while not giving up the factors that made Ward’s music so great to begin with. More Rain is familiar without feeling redundant, and for his loyal fan base, it will be a welcome addition to his catalog.