MIKE WARD, PARTICLES TO PEARLS

“Sometimes we look the other way… But not today.” Mike Ward, with his Bruce Springsteen growl and beautifully hand-picked guitar, gives us twelve songs looking deep into the lives of people who don’t always get their stories told. The touring musician who had “broken teeth and broken strings,” who couldn’t remember his street name, but remembered the lyrics to every song. The mother, probably his own, who had to live seventy years with the loss of her son to a joy ride in a Mustang. “Letting go getting past / No one told you how long this would last.” His dying father who “aint ready to go / …He’s just wrestling with ghosts.”

It is almost-country folk rock, and each song is wonderfully constructed, with violins, electric guitar, and background vocals with an impressive cast of players. The title of the record comes from the opening song: “Carbon to diamonds…particles to pearls / Seeds into sequoias…astral dust into worlds.” It’s as general and poetic as he gets on the album, (the rest of the songs are specific and detailed to certain relationships of his it seems,) but captures the probing and wonder-filled mind of Ward.

Some of his songs turn old ideas on their heads. Like “All We Have Are Words,” which challenges the idea that “there are no words.” In the face of tragedy sometimes “All we have are words, cliches and simple prayers / all we have are words, ours and theirs / To make our feelings heard, All we have are words.” The power of this album and Ward’s music in general is definitely the way he’s able to use words, turn a real life story or a smart observation into deep and resonant poetry. But it’s also in the sounds he creates, the songs he composes. Sometimes somebody else’s life needs a good melody to get the point across. And he immortalizes the people in his life and shares them with the world.

It’s a hefty album and deals in many of the same themes, so that it is a hearty if sometimes challenging listen. But just like you are blessed during a time with an elder, story-telling family member, you are rewarded with the forty five minute listen. The album ends with a statement of intent: “Let them be loved. Let them be held / Let them have feelings so completely felt.” It is a deep-feeling album solidly rooted in the folk tradition that brings you for its duration at once out of your own world and into your own painfully or blissfully shared experience. 

There are songs about his forty year relationship with his wife (“A Lot of Work”), longing for the past by way of photographs (“Back Again”), and dealing with the familiar burdens of life (“Not Today”). No song is a dud, each of them are full of rich language and musical composition. My suggestion is, if you like one song, you’re likely to enjoy them all. I was thrilled when Mike told me he had a follow up album to his The Darkness and the Light. And if you like one album, I’m pretty certain you’ll like the other. Get out of your world and into someone else’s, Ward’s and the characters’ that fill his impressive new album, for a good chunk of your evening. You probably won’t regret it. 

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