Opening with a gorgeous acoustic guitar cover of the Beach Boys’ “You Still Believe In Me,” Transistor Radio is one of the hidden gems of 2005. The album could have easily been called The Golden Age of Wireless had that title not already been taken by Thomas Dolby. Pops, scratches, and hollow tin can vocals abound on this tribute to radio songs of old. Listening to this album made me think of the things in my head I variously associate with the turn of the century to the 20’s, HBO’s Carnivalé, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and Sam Mendes’ The Road to Perdition.
M. Ward’s voice lilts and swoons over his light guitar work making one of the most delicate albums of the year. This subtlety may have made this album easy to overlook, but the listener was deprived for the lack of it. “Sweethearts on Parade” seems to marry Lindsay Buckingham’s guitars from “Second Hand News” with Pixies-esque songwriting and Nick Drake vocals. “Hi-Fi” is a stunner which was echoed by later songs by John Vanderslice. “Fuel for Fire” is like an indie version of Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” and I mean that in the best way possible. “Big Boat” features pals Vic Chesnutt and Jenny Lewis on backup vocals for a Jerry Lee Lewis / Elvis Presley pastiche. By the way, besides the two Bright Eyes releases from earlier this year, this is one album featuring the talents of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James.
Few can master the art of old time music, fewer still can maintain their own independent singer / songwriter style while trying to play old time music. M. Ward outdoes himself on this album, hitting various genres of radio music before he wraps it all up with a cover of none other than Johann Sebastian. From Beach Boys to Bach, M. Ward bookends a masterful collection of songs that represent the art of radio. If you missed it the first time around, go ahead and pick it up. It’s excellent rainy day, fire in the hearth, ear to the radio music. You almost wonder if The Shadow is going to pour out of the speakers after it’s over.