Kiley should provide added fireworks to a style that is typically
intimate and subdued. Known primarily as an acoustic singer/songwriter,
M. Ward's expertise lies in making simple, heartfelt ditties that
swarm with layers of nostalgic detail. Transfiguration of Vincent,
the recently released follow-up to his breakthrough debut, End
of Amnesia, opens with a twangy, piano-inflected instrumental
that would sound right at home in an Old West dancehall or played
beside a dwindling campfire surrounded by half-sleeping cowpokes.
Throughout its 11 tracks, Ward sings stories in a warm, gravelly
voice reminiscent of Robbie Robertson, backed by folky arrangements
that blend old country and bluegrass with other American roots music,
a style that he picked up from his father.
"My dad turned me
onto Johnny Cash. He was always into gospel and country," Ward
said. "My mom listened to classical music. But I guess the
most important musical education was just teaching myself how to
play guitar at around age 15, when music started to become more
personal and beyond being just a listening experience."
Ward said he quickly
discovered guitarists such as John Fahey, Chet Atkins and Django
Reinhardt. "They opened up these different avenues that I knew
I could never reach, but could at least try to walk down,"
His respect for a bygone
era goes beyond music. He says his lyrics are inspired by older
works of fiction and poetry. "Some modern fiction really annoys
me," he said. "It's too rapped up in the singular image
or it's too post-post-modern. It's hard for me to get involved in
The same holds true for
some of today's music. "Radiohead comes to mind," he said.
"For my personal tastes, I love the lyrics and sentiments of
Louis Armstrong. I guess my head is still stuck in the past. These
days, Banarama is considered 'old music.' That's sort of a strange
"I think about what
the next generation is growing up with. I'm not trying to change
what they listen to; I'm just playing what comes naturally. For
myself, it tends to come from those eras when music and genres were
melding in an incredible way, which resulted in the birth of jazz,
the birth of rock and the birth of folk. Those are the richest eras
for me musically, and they end up finding their way into my music.
The things you consume always end up coming out of you."
Ward got a chance to
pass on his appreciation to a whole new generation of listeners
touring with Bright Eyes earlier this year.
"I loved that tour,"
Ward said. "It was a unique experience because the age group
was a bit younger than what I'm accustomed to.
"But no matter how
old the audience is, I feel isolated on stage. I'm more concerned
with the instrument and other people I play with, and creating something
that at least is memorable for the musicians and oftentimes becomes
memorable for the audience, too -- that's an added bonus."
Published in The Omaha Weekly-Reader July 16,
2003. Copyright © 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.