In Rewind: M. Ward Covers

M. Ward is best known for his rough, gravelly singing voice, sweet, modern folk songs, and his immaculate sense of production. Each of his past four albums, dating back to 2001’s End of Amnesia right through 2006’s Post-War, are seamless collections of dusty little folk treasures. It’s hard to claim that any one of them is better than another, as all sound like a continuation of one great collection of songs.

What doesn’t get mentioned enough is how effective Ward is at covering the songs of other artists. On all his albums, save End of Amnesia, Ward tackles at least one song by another artist, and the result has never been short of stellar. Ward always makes the songs fit his style, sometimes completely re-imagining the music to something that barely resembles where it came from.

Here’s a sampling of some of the covers that have appeared on Ward’s records:

MP3 - Let’s Dance

Stripping Bowie’s super-glossy 80’s original down to it’s bare essentials, Ward takes a song that has no business resembling folk into a song I can no longer hear any other way. Appears on 2003’s Transfiguration of Vincent.

MP3 :: You Still Believe In Me

This instrumental begins Transistor Radio in a disarmingly understated way. Ward’s acoustic guitar mimics the beautiful vocal melody most prominent as the original fades out. And if you don’t have Pet Sounds there may be something wrong with you.

MP3 - Sweethearts On Parade

This is a jazz standard, having been performed by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Nat King Cole, among many others. The mix here of traditional folk with modern sounds proves no one, possibly save Califone, does this sound better. This also appears on Transistor Radio.

MP3 - To Go Home

Last year’s Post War was another great collection of songs, but this cover of Daniel Johnston's song stood head and shoulders above the rest for me. With Neko Case wailing in the background, Ward and band attack this song, giving it more of a polished indie-rock sheen than anything he has attempted before. It’s also one of the best songs of 2006. Also check the version of Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s “Headed For A Fall” from the To Go Home EP, which is cut from nearly the same cloth.

MP3 - Sadie

Joanna Newsom’s original is filled with a child-like whimsy that Ward isn’t capable of. Instead he converts the song to one that is weary, knowing, and mature, in the process giving it more of a sense of purpose. And when he sings her line “this is an old song, these are old blues, and this is not my tune, but it’s mine to use” he summarizes the history of American folk music in a way Newsom isn’t quite yet ready to do.

MP3 - Pale Blue Eyes

This Velvet Underground cover is from a European live recording called “Live Music & the Voice of Strangers”. It dates back to just before the release of Transfiguration of Vincent.

MP3 :: When I Get To The Border

This Richard & Linda Thompson song, a duet with actress Zooey Deschanel, will be featured on the soundtrack to the film The Go-Getter, which stars Deschanel and was scored by Ward. It debuted at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival back in February.

MP3 :: Buckets Of Rain

While we’re talking duets, here’s a great one with Beth Orton. It was recorded live a few years ago at the Seymour Centre in Sydney, Australia.

MP3 :: Let My Love Open The Door

Ward does a similar thing to this song as he did to Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” - stripped away all those regrettable frills artists seemed so prone to in the 80’s and just let the song shine through. Adding some weepy pedal steel doesn’t hurt either.

And check out this cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River”. It’s a benefit single available only at iTunes.

green river - benefit for mercy corpspurchase the album from itunes online.

Hear more of M Ward’s music at his myspace.

Seriously, buy all of these albums at Amazon, Insound, or the mp3s at Emusic.

Visit Merge Records for more information about M. Ward’s music


Anonymous said...

great artist. there's some good live bootlegs with him and my morning jacket around as well.

James said...

Oh yeah? I know Jim James and M. Ward were touring with Bright Eyes a few years ago - I'd love to hear some bootlegs from that tour....

Scott said...

Great list. You may want to check out this link for a Ward/Deschanel cover of "You Really Got a Hold On Me" and other tracks from their forthcoming collaboration:

Erik-Dardan said...

The Ward-Deschanel link seems to be dead, any chance of re-upping it? I've been really looking forward to hearing it. Thanks for all of this, it's brilliant stuff!

James said...

Thanks Erik for the head's up - sorry about that. it should be fixed now.