Originally released in 1999, M. Ward’s debut, Duet for Guitars #2—which was reissued in July by Merge Records—is certainly a low-key affair. Almost entirely acoustic, with a couple of fuzzy electric tracks and the occasional hint of mandolin and dulcimer, the album drifts from track to track in a near weightless manner. The Ward trademarks—whisper-soft, breathy vocal delivery and languid yet precise guitar-picking—are evident throughout, but his voice borders on hoarse too frequently, and many of the tracks slip off into the ether before gaining any momentum.
Standout tracks include “Fishing Boat Song,” during which Ward’s vocals assume an appealing smoky quality; the light rocker “Look Me Over,” which could have been extended by another two minutes; the lazy-summer ode to a classic car, “Beautiful Car”; and “Scene #12,” which has the distinct flavor of an old Wilco or solo Jeff Tweedy tune. On the whole, the seams in the sparse production come through a bit too clearly, but Ward demonstrates the late-night AM radio haziness that would make later albums like Transistor Radio so great.