Review: M. Ward drizzles starlight on ‘Migration Stories’

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This cover image released by Anti- Records shows “Migration Stories” by M. Ward. (Anti- Records via AP)

M. Ward, “Migration Stories” (Anti-Records)

The borders delineating M. Ward’s “Migration Stories” come in terrestrial and celestial forms, with songs inspired by his grandfather’s journey from Mexico and California earthquakes, as well as family reunions taking place in other dimensions.

Recorded principally in Quebec with members and collaborators of Arcade Fire, the collection began as largely instrumental ballads, mostly hushed moods occasionally linked by similar themes or visions.

Ward, whose career also has included roles in supergroup Monsters of Folk and — with Zooey Deschanel — in She & Him, filters reality through poetry, dreams and humane science fiction, alternating looks through grounded telescopes and microscopes in orbit.

“Unreal City,” referencing a dream about a “continental shake” and “the final tidal wave,” has the album’s nimblest rhythms and sunny backing vocals, tuning our satellite radio to the Soothing Sounds of the ’70s channel amid the calamity.

Opener “Migration of Souls,” with striking vocals from Irish duo The Lost Brothers, has a transcendent focus, while its sister track, “Heaven’s Nail and Hammer,” echoes the atmosphere of the Cowboy Junkies at their most delicate. “Coyote Mary’s Traveling Show” sounds like the result of a fragile Sun Records session.

Ward considers “Chamber Music” and “Torch,” another exception in its sprightliness, also to be connected, and says that while he can’t reveal the poem that may have transformed guitar instrumental “Stevens’ Snow Man,” the words “may be useful in the middle of a drought or winter or pandemic.” If we only knew.

The relaxed pacing, Ward’s intimate vocals and tips of the cap to Hank Williams, Elvis Presley and the sounds of the West give the album a decidedly nighttime atmosphere, a drizzle of starlight that settles gently on the ears and the mind.