Matt Ward is a Portland, Ore., resident who hails from Southern California, but there's a warm, universal spirit to his lo-fi album Transistor Radio that makes you feel his musical instincts could have been honed in any Smalltown, U.S.A. - especially one in the South, where his beloved country, blues and folk strains are as much in the air as the morning dew.
Listening to this concept album is akin to monitoring the radio at some magical point decades ago when disc jockeys were still free to pick their own records and every turn of the dial gave you a slightly different musical personality.
In saluting that music and that liberating approach to radio, Ward takes us on a journey that includes songs by the Beach Boys and the Carter Family, but is based mostly on his own material.
The best moments of this rich survey of vintage sounds make you feel you are just one station away from hooking into something from Bob Dylan's Love and Theft album, which was a delightful salute to the music Dylan heard on the radio as a youngster in Minnesota.
There's such a casual, old-timey feel to much of the compact disc that it's easy to get caught up by the album's charms and forget to focus on Ward's writing, which would be a mistake. As he has shown in earlier solo collections, he is a gifted writer with a rich, understated feel for tales of restlessness and longing.
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Transistor Radio (Merge) ***1/2