Its a tricky thing, dissecting M. Wards new album it cant possibly stack up against 2006s Post-War, where every track felt like a classic. But Hold Time does show Ward expanding his production skills; the bustling girl-group sound here is thick with shivering keys, self-arranged strings, and other reverb-coated extras provided by several Portland regulars. Beyond that, his collaborators include She & Him partner Zooey Deschanel, and Lucinda Williams, who sings on the country standard Oh Lonesome Me. To Save Me even sneaks in whooshing keyboards and faint vocals from former Grandaddy leader Jason Lytle. The transformative slowdown of the Buddy Holly hit Rave On is akin to Wards tackling of David Bowies Lets Dance years ago, while the instrumental outro invokes the Sinatra chestnut Im a Fool to Want You with a painted-sunset Western vibe.
Hold Time is more ruminative than Post-War, with a palpable religious streak. Blakes View paraphrases the famous poet (Death is just a door Its just another room we enter/Its the threshold that hurts) while promising a reunion with loved ones on the other side. Thoughts of permanence are also at the heart of the stripped-bare One Hundred Million Years: This love between you and I/Is older than the burning ball of fire up in the sky. Old-soul songs so casually delivered wind up feeling both durable and disposable, which has become Wards greatest strength and weakness. Doug Wallen
M. Ward performs on Thursday, March 5 at Palace of Fine Arts. 8 p.m., $29.50; www.anotherplanetent.com.
Thu., March 5, 8 p.m., 2009