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Portland's M. Ward emerges on indie folk scene
by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

M. Ward
March 6 - 9 PM
The Showbox Market - Sold Out


The newest star on the folk music block is based just across the state border, and he also happens to be its most enigmatic player since Tom Waits - a whispering troubadour of sorts named M. Ward. The Portland native, still relatively unknown in mainstream circles, is showing signs of growth by debuting last week on the Billboard charts at #31 with his just-released effort Hold Time - it follows the acclaimed recording Volume One, a full-length collaboration with actress-singer Zooey Deschanel (married to Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard). On his latest offering, Ward continues his brand of funky, experimental folk on songs like "Rave On," "Stars of Leo" and "Jailbird." True to the genre, the raw elements of quiet and sometimes upbeat guitars, simple verses, laid-back melodies and backroad tales lend themselves to itty bitty slices of Americana.

M. Ward first caused buzz with 2003's Transfiguration of Vincent, put out by Merge Records (Arcade Fire, Spoon, Camera Obscura). He caught the early attention of indie darlings Bright Eyes and Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley, each inviting him on tour. His sophomore project, 2005's Transistor Radio, opened the doors to regional airplay and road outings with Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes fame) and My Morning Jacket's Jim James, who collectively trekked the country under the billing "The Monsters of Folk." Soon thereafter, The White Stripes asked Ward to open a series of dates for them, and the release of 2007's Post-War padded his cheering section with the likes of Norah Jones and Noel Gallagher of Oasis - he embarked on a worldwide tour with the former Grammy-winning artist as her sole supporting act. These days, Ward headlines his own live performances with the exception of large festivals, two of them in which he'll appear at soon - Coachella and Sasquatch.

At The Showbox Market, Ward is sure to please his small but devout Seattle fanbase with an intimate show that'll introduce the audience to selections from Hold Time, though I expect he'll also reach back to previous albums to mix things up - less likely to be performed are tracks from his duet with Deschanel, though since she has now become a local connection it's not entirely impossible for a surprise appearance. While I have yet to personally embrace this Oregonian's ambitious blend of folk music due to my adoration for the poppier stuff from Joshua Radin or the country-fried brilliance of Fleet Foxes, it'd be unfair to ignore such a talented singer-songwriter that has zoomed skywards on the music biz radar. Despite his tunes being mellow and organic a la Mason Jennings, it's very much mid-tempo and should keep the crowd on its feet throughout the evening. You can ear-sample Ward's songs at www.myspace.com/mward. Port O'Brien will open the show. Go to Craigslist for any loose tickets, or wait outside the venue and someone is usually selling a few extra just outside the door.

Artist footnotes: Portland resident, toured with The White Stripes, scheduled performer at Coachella Festival.

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