"One. One. One. One or two won't do. No, I want it all." From the moment M. Ward's smoky, Technicolor voice kicks off "Poison Cup," the first song on his sixth album, it's clear that he's reaching for the brass ring. Already one of the best singer-songwriters of the aughts, Post-Warfinds Ward in complete control of his formidable powers, stirring up the ghosts of American music (Louis Armstrong and John Fahey chief among them) while simultaneously forging a sound that is undeniably his and his alone. If there's one complaint about the album, it's that the first half is frontloaded with too many near-classics, from the aforementioned "Poison Cup" to the Rhodes-driven title track, one of the best ballads you'll hear all year. "Right in the Head" and "Requiem" showcase Ward's dazzling fretboard skills, with searing fuzz-tone leads that could make Jack White green with envy, while his version of Daniel Johnston's "To Go Home" (complete with harmonies from Neko Case) absolutely soars; not since Johnny Cash has an artist been so adept at making a song his own. The second half of the album can't help but pale in comparison, but an exuberant Jim James cameo (on "Magic Trick") and an instrumental on par with "Telstar" ("Neptune's Net") save the day. Besides, when you're still listening to this album 30 years from now, even the lesser tunes will be classics.
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