Sat April 30
3017 SE Milwaukie
According to the album liner notes, M. Ward's third release, Transistor Radio, was mostly recorded in an attic in Portland. While such lo-fi climates are nothing new or startling at this point, it's interesting to think Ward didn't go the basement-tapes route. Instead, he climbed upstairs to record this intimate, literate collection of songs.
The attic has connotations of dusted-off treasures, and Ward definitely pays tribute to the past. His voice melds Tim Hardin and Tim Buckley but with some nicely grooved cracks. While he gets inspiration from the '70s folk-rock heyday, Ward obviously draws on deeper roots with plenty of country-blues inflection to his voice. The arrangements of the album's 16 songs have much in common with Giant Sand's Howe Gelb, who makes a guest appearance on the album, as do Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Vic Chesnutt.
Ward is of course a throwback in the best possible way, noting that Transistor Radio "was designed to be heard on vinyl in two segments--those being side A and side B." If that sounds insufferably sincere, it's not played that way. There are plenty of gently shuffling folk tunes here but they sit beside jaunty, celebratory songs recalling the joy of friends playing together, which is folk music's real legacy. The album is themed around the memories of transistor radio and childhood connections to music, and for Ward that isn't the garage or the basement; it's left to loftier locations.