Kristen Ward exudes a dual personality on her second album, “Drive Away”, and the Seattle-based artist’s contradictions are apparent from the track titles. At one point, she sings that all she wants to do is “Drive Away,” yet a few tracks later she wails, “I Want to Go Home.” This seeming duality fits well with her alt-country aesthetic, which reflects both an edgy sensibility and an innocent nostalgia for the “good old days.”
The album’s production allows the listener to focus on Ward’s lyricism and – in the tradition of Johnny Cash – she is strongest when she takes on dark subjects. During a verse of “Faith,” Ward tells a child to “draw a sunny picture … because the way you think can make me smile,” before moaning the chorus: “Faith comes easily / Faith dies quickly.” On the refrain’s last note, she descends to a key that is nearly too low for her range, but that only emphasizes the depth of her despair. Her alto vocals are smooth enough to soothe a bourbon hangover, and her vocal hiccups, runs and other inflections keep the listener’s attention without distracting from her emotions.
The instrumentation on the album is superb and guitarist Gary Westlake uses all his alt-country tricks, such as the wandering double-stops on “All Alone” and The Allman Brothers-influenced licks on “Good Time Man.” Kevin Suggs’ pedal steel provides not only the melancholy atmosphere, but also some of the most memorable hooks (see “Loneliness”). Even Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready makes an appearance on “With You Again.” His screechy leads bring the raw emotion that counterpoints Ward’s subtle delivery.
Though Ward covers familiar territory, there are plenty of exceptional moments that make this album special. However, her setlist could benefit from at least one song whose beat really cooks â€“ all of these ballads fit comfortably in the down- to mid-tempo range, and even the honky-tonk flavored tunes are barely quicker than “Stand by Your Man.” Still, Ward is an exceptional songwriter and singer who takes traditional elements and presents them in ways that convince of their authenticity. (Self-released)
Ryan Faughnder, The Performer Magazine, August 2008