There is something to be said for comfort music, music from a tried-and-true artist that you just know will warm your soul and ease your spirit. M. Ward has perfected his own form of comfort music, founded on classic rock influence from the 60s and 70s and driven by his near-perfect guitar and song craft. For musicians that fall into this area, new albums can be approached with trepidation by the loyal fan base. Will it hit the same tone as classics, and M. Ward has many classic, and will it stay fresh?  Ward’s eight studio album, More Rainfinds the singer-songwriter firmly in his own comfort zone and delivering exactly what audiences have come to expect but with a level of newness provided by several of musical collaborations.

The only real misfire is opening titled track, “More Rain”, which is literally a full minute of rain sounds. This feels slightly gimmicky and would actually work better as the closer. The following track, “Pirate Dial”, opens with beautiful simple pedal steel and Ward’s one-of-kind voice. This sound washes over the listener with simple strumming, open space, and reverb.

The Neko Case-backed “Time Won’t Wait” is a fantastic glam rocker. Ward is brilliant at layering guitars, pianos, vocals, and placing harmonies, as he has done on his side project with She & Him. On this track, Case and Ward are playful and fun.  The contributions don’t stop there, as k.d. lang provides harmonies for “Little Baby”,  and R.E.M’s Peter Buck provides guitar and mandolin assistance on “Phenomenon” and “Temptation”.

The contributions are welcome but subtle, allowing M. Ward to shine. Early track “Confession” slowly builds on a driving guitar riff and is finally fleshed out with some fine 80s-era horns. Another standout track is “Girl from Conejo Valley”, which is vintage M. Ward.

M. Ward music is and always has been a throwback to the earlier eras of rock. He is a consistent singer-songwriter that does not need to dramatically reinvent himself or his music. Some critics might feel that this he is sticking to his comfort zone and not pushing his music when it is really an artist that is perfecting his craft. More Rain is an album that feels familiar and yes comfortable on first listen, but like all of M. Ward’s work it has layers that will continue to reward fans for years to come.

More Rain is available Friday via Merge Records.

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