More Rain (Merge Records). The record brims with such low-key observations as “Pirate Dial” and the Bob Dylan–inspired homage “Girl From Conejo Valley.” The album perks up with occasional rock intensity via guest stars Neko Case and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck. The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens, fresh from receiving a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, has a more stirring vocal presence that’s infused with hints of bluegrass and country and twisted with intricate clusters of banjo.
M. Ward is a gifted songwriter who’s shown the ability to play well with others, such as with She & Him, his charming pop duo with Zooey Deschanel, and Monsters of Folk, an all-star assemblage with Jim James, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis. But Ward shines even more as a solo performer, wandering freely over the gently rolling hills of his most recent full-length album,