M Ward – Migration Stories (4 stars)

M Ward – Migration Stories

Ninth studio album from the writer, producer and performer is tender, soothing and timely

M Ward's tenth solo album ostensibly does what it says on the tin by offering ten songs on the theme of human migration, all inspired by real-life tales gleaned from the media, friends and family (Ward is a grandson of Mexican immigrants).

Inevitably, the album feels timely, but it is also timeless. Migration – or, more pointedly, immigration – is a perpetual hot topic but Ward moves to take the heat out of the debate with his terminally laidback odysseys, offering more an impressionistic, metaphysical vision of 'a maybe-era when movement is free again'.

The results are as restful as the hoped-for respite at the end of a long journey, although the languid jazz-tinged 'Migration of Souls' is also touched with a melancholy which suggests that the narrator is not so certain that 'I'll get back to you'.

The easy listening country blues 'Coyote Mary's Traveling Show' is also coloured with the mild ache in his delivery, but 'Heaven's Nail and Hammer' is a supremely chilled lo-fi ballad, with Ward kicking back over a gentle shuffle rhythm, picking with relaxed resonance over the additional balm of soothing backing vocals.

'Independent Man' goes with the slightly grittier palette of juddering rhythm, burnished guitar and space age siren vocal effects, while the rapturous indie pop ramble 'Unreal City' quickens the pace to what passes for an upbeat number capturing the nervous excitement in encountering brave new environments.

The album features one cover – the gently contented 40s cowboy ballad 'Along the Santa Fe Trail' – and one instrumental, the ninety-second 'Rio Drone' which conjures a sense of forward momentum in a most unhurried fashion.

Migration Stories is not strictly a Ward solo effort, as this serial collaborator hunkered down in wintry Montreal with Arcade Fire members Tim Kingsbury and Richard Reed Parry and producer Craig Silvey to produce this warming comfort blanket of an album.

Out Fri 3 Apr on ANTI.

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