M. Ward, with Rilo Kiley and Statistics

Portland's M. Ward may not be a household name, but the edgy young finger-picking composer gathers support from an amazing number of highly credible figures in the alternative music world, from über-producer and conceptual mover-and-shaker Howie Gelb of Giant Sand to Deeana Varagona of Lambchop. Critics drooled over his 2001 album, End of Amnesia, which drew favorable comparisons to Tom Waits's Swordfishtrombones. As with Waits and artists like Daniel Johnston or fellow traveler Vic Chesnutt, don't waste time trying to cram M(att) Ward into the "Americana" pigeonhole -- or any other. Ward's music may be lo-fi, but it is in a constant state of flux and deft pay-attention-dammit movement. Call him alt-alternative.

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