"A Wasteland Companion"
Rating: ★★★ (out of four)
M. Ward belongs in a different era.
He plays music that's reminiscent of '50s Buddy Holly rock, and he's fond of covering tunes such as Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven," which came out in 1956. Ward listened to Beatles tapes and records over and over again to learn how to play the guitar.
On "A Wasteland Companion," the singer-songwriter puts all of that together. "Primitive Girl" is a swinging pop gem with a hopping melody and "Sweetheart" is a bouncy tune reminiscent of early Beatles pop, made complete by the hand-clap beat.
Opening track "Clean Slate" is not a killer. It doesn't grab attention. The slow, acoustic ballad, a tribute to Big Star's Alex Chilton, is probably better for enjoying a lemonade after mowing the lawn rather than blasting on the jukebox during a night out.
"Pure Joy," "There's a Key" and the title track follow that slowed-down path, but they're snoozers. Ward's strum-and-pick guitar style gives simultaneous rhythm and melody and his soft voice lends a mellow tone to the already reverb-happy, fuzzy, old-school rock tone.
Fans of Ward's other project, She & Him, will be happy to hear Zooey Deschanel on songs such as "Sweetheart" and "Me and My Shadow," among others. As on previous records, Deschanel's presence adds depth without pulling away too much attention.
— Kevin Coffey