A bit of a gamble for an independent to release a 2-CD set but, multi-instrumentalist Gordon Thomas Ward does have 16-diversified songs of noteworthy subjects. Whether he can sustain a listener’s interest or has the storytelling prowess is the question.
On first listen, the proficiency of the musicians is without question. The 16-track LP surprisingly was recorded not 9 miles from where I live, so I’m impressed with the quality of the work Charlestown Road Studios provided Gordon. It opens with the title track from “Eiderdown – Vol. 1 & 2” (Independent/Trespass – Drops May 1).
The tune is a ghost story at Eiderdown — — a stormy, rocky coastline in Maine. Maybe not as dramatic as Strawbs’ lighthouse tale of the legendary “Grace Darling,” Ward (lead acoustic 6-string guitar) does provide an abundance of atmosphere. Caroline Cotter adds backing vocals.
Questionable relationships are explored in “Desiree,” & multi-instrumentalist Eric Troyer (co-producer with Gordon) adds piano, organ, percussion, bass & backing vocals. Ward carefully navigates his lyrics with a good storytelling narrative.
There are songs about a Revolutionary War hero; parents who set children free; a song about simpler times; Heaven being how we touch each other’s souls; a lullaby; a sad beautiful tune about Alzheimer’s performed brilliantly in a John Prine style. A penetrating tune about the decline of the coal industry; people who are asleep at the wheel; thinking of the those we miss, & a nostalgic tribute to where Ward grew up.
Ward is a singer-songwriter mostly in the mold of David Blue, David McWilliams, & Steve Goodman. He doesn’t have the sting of Townes Van Zandt, the Liberal anger of Phil Ochs, the Euro-flavor dark romance of Leonard Cohen, the growl of Dylan & Barry McGuire. He’s not as commercially viable yet as the late Jim Croce or Harry Chapin. But Ward has his niche & a full bag of neat songs.
Also, in his band are: Keith Goellner (sticks, spoons); Dan Kassel (cello); Michael Mitsch (bodhran, percussion); Ian Rankine (highland bagpipes); David Rimelis (violin) & Dave Shapiro (electric lead guitar).
From the perspective of a National Guard soldier Ward revisits the Kent State Massacre in the 7-minute “Four Angels.” An infectious melody Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young would envy. Vol 1 ends at 42 minutes with #8 “Dreams.
“The Ghost of Hugh Thompson” — the most powerful song from CD 2 begins with chiming guitars & a sensible slap at the face of the fake news media & politics in general. Hugh Thompson was an Army helicopter pilot who rescued Vietnamese civilians during the My Lai massacre. He reported the killings to his superior officers & died at 62 in 2006.
Taking a reflective view of childhood, the most radiating, well-arranged tune is “Endless Horizons,” the LP’s masterpiece.
CD 2 ends shy of 41 minutes & the 2-volumes are available at Gordon’s website. https://gordonthomasward.com/