M. Ward, "More Rain" (Merge Records)
There is a late '60s, early '70s vibe on M. Ward's "More Rain," a mellow brightness that's immediate yet distant.
The minute of rain to start the record is too obvious. Ward may feel perpetually oversaturated in Portland, Oregon, as he initially meant to build up the songs with layers of multi-tracked vocals.
Although the arrangements expanded along with the number of guests — Peter Buck, Neko Case, k.d. lang and Joey Spampinato among them — tunes like "I'm Listening" and "Little Baby" retained their doo-wop features.
"Time Won't Wait" has a sung, staccato rhythm riff, Case on background vocals and a smidge of T. Rex glam, while the strings on "Slow Driving Man" combine John Lennon and Isaac Hayes.
A cover of the Beach Boys' "You're So Good to Me" begins lo-fi, stays guitar-dominated and Ward's backing vocals hit the mark better than his lead. The Moog siren on "Girl from Conejo Valley," meanwhile, makes a lament for a runaround girlfriend suitable for the soundtrack of a Steve McQueen prison escape.
"I'm Going Higher" is a fitting closer, its Ringo-like optimism gracefully supported by The Secret Sisters' vocal foundation.
Recorded over four years in a handful of studios from Oregon to Massachusetts, Ward gives "More Rain" a weathered, AM radio-like sonic character which avoids being merely a stylistic exercise.