M.Ward's second solo enterprise verifies the artist as one of those few songwriters who stand between the cracks of time, where he spins a hallucinatory, new universe out of old-world roots. Indeed, there's a real down-home, unpolished luster to End of Amnesia, both in execution and in songwriting, that gives it a timeless, old-fashioned pallor. And yet there's also something just slightly off in the songs, a strange, disembodied quality that seems to come at least partly from an ulterior place, be it real or imagined. That attribute is precisely what gives the music such a singular, distinctive sound and vision. Ward comes off like a sort of one-man the Band with nothing but a beat-up guitar and his sepia croak of a voice. His acoustic guitar playing has the kind of impressive, gutsy virtuosity of Stephen Stills, while the music is part folk-blues à la Townes Van Zandt and part deep Appalachian pallidness, with a dash of Tin Pan Alley thrown in via the odd foot stomp or honky tonk piano run. Musicianship is superb, and as stark as the instrumentation is, there is first and foremost a special quality of songwriting that results in acoustic instrumentals (the drone-like title track, the wistful "Psalm") or nearly instrumental ballads (the gauzy, sunlike picking of "Color of Water"). The songs can be unsparing in their desolation, sound-wise if not necessarily in their worldview, although there is certainly a sense of loss present throughout. One gets the feeling, however, that the mood is less a product of a personal feeling than it is a personal perspective of a vanishing era of song, one free of commercial constraint, marketing, or trend. And yet the songs aren't long glances backward so much as they are outgrowths, seedlings from a great old uprooted tree trying to recapture some of the biblical grandeur that has wilted away, some of the lost importance, trying to refill a shadow that's no longer there. The album is a keeper, pure, simple, and unaffected but certainly not unaffecting.