Analogue Music | M. Ward - Migration Stories
M. Ward: Migration Stories

M. Ward: Migration Stories

Artist: M. Ward · Written by George Welty

Date Released

17 April, 2020



M. Ward is a singer/songwriter from Portland whose ten albums have been spread out over the last twenty years.

Even though he’s from the Pacific Northwest, his music has always felt like it belonged somewhere between Muscle Shoals and Baton Rouge. His music exists in that place where blues, folk, rock, and country collide in the middle. I think “Americana” is what the kids are calling it nowadays.

For context, Ward is also the other half of the duo She & Him (with Zooey Deschanel) and he's also toured with Monsters of Folk. His voice is languid and smooth, his underrated guitar skills are twangy, seasoned blues riffs that would feel at home in a speakeasy after midnight.

Migration Stories is Ward's tenth LP, an album way more thematic than his earlier efforts. Like so much art, it is a mixture of what is going in the world around us, along with his own personal story. This album was inspired by the migrant crisis going on in America and the rest of the world, and it was also inspired by his grandfather’s own migration from Mexico. Because of these elements, Migration Stories showcaes a narrative arch in the storytelling that is not obviously present in his other work. It does, however, have Ward’s trademark mixture of whimsy and depth that lends the music an optimistic feel, even when the subject matter is so difficult.

"...All of us are migrants. All of us are living our migration stories."

“Migration of Souls” kicks off Migration Stories with a metaphysical exploration of the journey home. “Unreal City”, the most poppy of the tracks present, is a longing for an ideal place that doesn’t exist. Standout tracks include “Along the Santa Fe Trail," a cover of an old cowboy standard Ward heard on AM radio while on a road trip, and “Chamber Music”, which is so chill I felt cooler just for listening to the song. There are no songs on Migration Stories that are as catchy as “Chinese Translation” on Post War or “Never Had Nobody Like You” off of Hold Time. However, the songs are still bright and beautiful while remaining soulful and deep. Plus, the narrative nature of the entire album makes for a thoughtful, even evocative listening experience.

On a personal note, I had more of an emotional reaction to this album than I can fully explain. For the past few months I have been separated from my family. I took a new job in a different state, and the rest of my family will move sometime at the beginning of the summer. It has been way more difficult than I care to admit living away from them, especially in a time of pandemic and quarantine. When I heard this album was themed around immigration issues, I had a hard time not thinking, “That is so last year.” In the midst of a pandemic, migration just didn’t seem as important an issue to me as it had in the past.

This week, my new job allowed me to go back home to shelter with my family and work remotely. I listened to Migration Stories for the first time on that 13-hour drive from Tampa to Memphis. On the first song, “Migration of Souls”, Ward sings the lyric, “Sailing on past, space and time, that's how I'll get back to you.” It became the anthem of my road trip. I realized in that moment that all of us are migrants. All of us are living our migration stories. If you are in transition at all, if you are going from one place to another, physically or emotionally, Migration Stories is for you.