M. Ward - A Solo Performance with special guest Catherine Irwin (of Freakwater) - 3/28Tuesday, March 28 2017 6:00 PM Doors / 8:00 PM Start
- Front Premier
at City Winery Chicago
M. Ward returns with a stunning new album, More Rain, for release on Merge Records on March 4, 2016. Ward has released a string of acclaimed solo albums over the past several years, along with five LPs with Zooey Deschanel as She & Him and a 2009 collaborative album with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis under the moniker Monsters of Folk. In addition to his celebrated work as a musician, Ward is an accomplished producer, handling those duties for such luminaries as Mavis Staples, Jenny Lewis, and Carlos Forster as well as his own musical projects.
M. Ward knows how to live with rain. Having spent the last decade-and-a-half based in the perennially damp Portland, Oregon, the singer-songwriter and producer has learned how to shine through the soggy gloom by simply embracing its inevitability. For Ward, there is inspiration in a dark sky and harmony in foreboding winds. And with his new album More Rain, he has made a true gotta-stay-indoors, rainy-season record that looks upwards through the weather while reflecting on his past.
“I think one of the biggest mysteries of America right now is this: How are we able to process unending bad news on Page One and then go about our lives the way the style section portrays us?” says Ward. “There must be a place in our brains that allows us to take a bird’s-eye view of humanity, and I think music is good at helping people—myself included—go to that place.”
This album, Ward’s eighth solo affair, finds the artist picking up the tempo and volume a bit from his previous release, 2012’s A Wasteland Companion. Where that record introspectively looked in from the outside, More Rain finds Ward on the inside, gazing out. Begun four years ago and imagined initially as a DIY doo-wop album that would feature Ward experimenting with layering his own voice, it soon branched out in different directions, a move that he credits largely to his collaborators here who include R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Neko Case, k.d. lang, The Secret Sisters, and Joey Spampinato of NRBQ. The result is a collection of upbeat, sonically ambitious yet canonically familiar songs that both propel Ward’s reach and satisfy longtime fans.
More Rain begins with an actual rainstorm, then throughout the album, guitars chime, chug, and riff with Ward’s unmistakable earthy tone, while layers of atmospheric reverb and skittering drums climb and clip in equal measures. As the cloud of noise rolls in, the layers part ever so slightly to make way for Ward’s voice, which can play wispy and whimsical in one moment (“Pirate Dial”) or crackling and smoky in the next (“Time Won’t Wait”) just as well as it can climb to clear-sky clarity (“Confession”) then drop down to smooth, soulful crooning (“I’m Listening”), each one after the other. “Girl From Conejo Valley” is a nostalgic trot through people he used to know and a place he used to be, and “Slow Driving Man” is sweeping and lush in its orchestral climb towards confident heights.
As the album ends with the self-assured swing of “I’m Going Higher,” voices join together in a chorus of rising “ah”s and, for just a second, it seems the storm outside has slowed, making room for a ray of hopeful sunlight. As Ward knows, the rainy season is sure to return, but for now, More Rain is here to help us with our perspective.
About Catherine Irwin
Catherine Irwin's second solo album is a showcase for her considerable writing skills both musically and lyrically as well as her singular performance style. Little Heater combines raw and unadorned vocals with lush countrypolitan-style productions: gorgeous string sections, pedal steel guitar and dense layers of vocal harmonies. Lyrics follow the themes of old-time music -- loss, despair, self-destruction and delusion -- but the references and turns of phrase are entirely modern and entirely Catherine's. As she did on 2002's spare and haunting Cut Yourself a Switch, or as she has done as the primary songwriter in Freakwater, Catherine aims her laser wit into the dark corners of the human condition.
Little Heater was recorded and produced by Tara Jane ONeil (Rodan, Ida) in Woodstock, New York in September 2011. The acoustic instruments and vocals were captured with meticulous attention to detail, resulting in a sound that is relaxed, organic and immediate. Shimmering electric guitars and high-lonesome pedal steel wash over Catherine's voice while heartbeat steady bass drum drifts in from the next room. Lush and atmospheric, not unlike the way it sounds when you are alone and crying down at the bottom of a well. Tara plays drums and numerous other instruments. She also lends her voice to "Sinner Saves a Saint", a duet written by the late, great cartoonist John Callahan. Elizabeth Mitchell, Daniel Littleton and Jean Cook -- all members of Ida -- lend their considerable vocal and instrumental talents. Rounding out the guest contributions, Marc Orleans lays down some classic pedal steel solos and Bonnie Prince Billy offers up his keening vocals on a few tracks, gently complimenting Catherine's southern gothic tales.
Over the years, Irwin's songs have been covered by artists including Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, Califone and Jolie Holland. Neko covered Catherine's "Hex" on The Tigers Have Spoken, and "Dusty Groove" is the opening track on Kelly Hogan's major label debut. It should come as no surprise that musicians like the late Hazel Dickens, Steve Earle, Randy Newman, Indigo Girls and M. Ward number among Catherine's fans. As Freakwater, Catherine and Janet Bean virtually paved the way for what is now known as Alt-Country. There was no indie equal when they released their first album in 1989, at least a year prior to the first albums by bands such as Uncle Tupelo who soon joined them in spearheading a movement. Their debut album was an entirely new combination of classic country by the likes of The Louvin Brothers and striking, raw originals presented with an unvarnished punk rock/DIY attitude. Their next release, a 7", was a freaky, dulcimer-drenched cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs". With this they cracked it all open.
Since then, Freakwater has continued to combine their punk rock aesthetic with a deep love and understanding of country music over the course of 7 highly influential studio albums. The recent re-issue of their Thrill Jockey debut Feels Like the Third Time, with classic Irwin penned songs like "My Old Drunk Friend", sold out in pre-sales.
Catherine refused label requests to record for several years, waiting to record only when she was ready. This is typical Catherine. She is less concerned with what others think she should do than with what she thinks would be most interesting. She continued writing songs and working on paintings. Her portraits are abstract and emotional, often dark and naive in style. They are haunting and penetrating like her words. Over the past year she tried different recording techniques, from 4-track live to full-on studio, until she found the right combination with Tara and Ida.
We are glad she stuck to her guns as this is her finest recording to date, a stand out in her remarkable body of work. Whether the landscape is urban or rural, personal or political, the terrain over which Catherine drags her pen is dark, but paved with diamonds.