Transfiguration of Vincent by M Ward (Review)

Transfiguration of Vincent is easily one of this year’s top five or so releases.
Transfiguration of Vincent - M Ward

They say it’s not what you know but who you know, but what happens when you’ve got both on your side? In the case of M. Ward, what happens is Transfiguration of Vincent, his absolutely stunning third record.

So who does he know? Well, the story is that Ward first came to people’s attention thanks to Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb. Ward handed Gelb a tape of his own material following one of Gelb’s performances and the man was so impressed that he made it the first, and to date only, non-Giant Sand release on his own Ow Om label.

In fact, Gelb liked it so much that he released the raw demo exactly as it was, afraid that going back and touching it up would just strip the intimacy out of it, and then brought Ward along as a pedal steel player for one of Giant Sand’s subsequent European tours.

What Ward knows is songwriting. The man is an absolute master at building fractured, intimate worlds. Gelb is the obvious comparison point — it’s perfectly clear why Howe likes the man so much — but whereas Gelb always comes across as a bit of a sonic prankster, there’s no doubting Ward’s sincerity.

Transfiguration of Vincent was written, as Ward explains in the liner notes, to “keep the loss alive and behind me.” Although he never makes it clear who Vincent actually was, Ward has crafted an achingly clear picture of loss and longing. “I went to the doctor and said doctor please,” Ward sings, “What do you do when your true love leaves? Make a sad, make a sad, make a sad, sad song.” It’s an accurate enough description of what’s going on here, though his sadness is shot through with enough sweet melodies that it goes down easy.

Ward’s quiet meditations cozy up with guitar buzzed stompers, countrified gospel tunes, and the most incredible reworking of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” — seriously, Ward makes this song his own in a way not seen since Mark Kozelek decided to take a run at AC/DC — to make Transfiguration of Vincent easily one of this year’s top five or so releases. Just brilliant.

Written by Chris Brown.

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