A heartfelt and intimate tribute to one of the true greats.
Hot on the heels of his tenth studio album “Migration Stories”, released in April, prolific songwriter M. Ward returns with an album of re-worked Billie Holiday numbers. Of Holiday, Ward says:
“I first heard [Billie’s album] ‘Lady In Satin’ in a mega-shopping mall somewhere in San Francisco, I was about 20 years old and didn’t know much about Billie’s records or her life or how her voice changed over the years. Anyway, the sound was coming from the other side of the mall and I remember mistaking her voice for a beautiful perfectly distorted electric guitar – some other-world thing floating there on this strange mournful ocean of strings and I was hooked for life.”
His love and affection for both the material and the original artist are evident throughout the record. However, Ward is unflinching in his reinterpretation of the songs. He has in no way attempted to imitate Holiday (who could?), but rather brings his own signature sound to the tracks. His hushed, almost whispering vocal and stripped back, minimalist guitar playing perfectly complement one another, creating an intimate and atmospheric record.
Ward deliberately used minimal studio manipulation, having recorded the majority of the album on an analogue four-track; just his voice and an acoustic guitar. He uses a plethora of alternate tunings to rework the songs, there is wonderful variation in sound and an immense sense of space. Close your eyes, and you can see him alone on stage in an empty concert hall, with rain lashing against the windows.
As with any covers album, one must ask: what is the point? The answer in this case is twofold; firstly, this is a love letter from one artist to another – Ward’s personal tribute to an artist who, as he has said, has inspired him for the majority of his life. The amount of reinterpretation Ward has done justifies the record in and of itself, this is not a simple covers album, but a real effort of creative process and imagination. Secondly, this is a record that has been made in aid of some excellent causes – proceeds from sales will go to Inner-City Arts and DonorsChoose. Inner-City Arts is an LA based organisation which provides safe creative spaces for children and young people. DonorsChoose is an NGO which enables people to donate directly to public school projects.
It is wonderfully fitting that this tribute to one of Ward’s long time inspirations can in some way contribute to inspiring new generations of creatives. It’s worth buying just for that, and it ain’t bad sounding, either.