M Ward: Think of Spring review – a spectral tribute to Billie Holiday
West coast singer-songwriter Matthew Ward stalks Americana circles in many guises; as solo artist, guitarist to Norah Jones, collaborator with the likes of Arcade Fire, and half of pop duo She & Him. He records only in analogue, and his restless yet obsessive nature – this is his 11th solo album – means there are always fresh, left-field pastures in which to gambol, and unusual guitar tunings to master.
Arriving mere months after his recent Migration Stories, with its sci-fi undercurrents and squeaky synths, this tribute to Billie Holiday is a very different creature. All but one track is taken from Holiday’s 1958 album Lady in Satin, a scoop of the great American songbook delivered with a 40-piece orchestra. Ward comes at the songs from the opposite direction, his soft vocals set against intricately picked acoustic guitar, brash numbers such as All the Way rendered downbeat and bluesy. He is no torch singer; most often, Ward recalls John Fahey or Robert Johnson, but the spectral, night-time atmosphere captures the hurt and weariness of Holiday’s delivery. Proceeds go to Covid relief, which helps explain the title. Think of Spring; aren’t we all.