On the surface, J. Matthew Ward’s new album, “Dream Your Own History,” is a mellow, alternative rock record. But with a few spins and a deep dive into Ward's lyrics, listeners will find "Dream Your Own History" offers much more — a critical look at the American way, a harsh spotlight on its origins and the artist’s own struggle with that history.
A historian and a museum guide at Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Ward employs a deep knowledge of history in the American South. That understanding of the past and its tendency to repeat manifests in cynical, somber songwriting on “Dream Your Own History.”
Ward addresses several issues within American politics, economics and culture, in general, on the record. “Out in the Sticks” is an anthem for the impoverished and forgotten, while the album’s title track creates a slam piece out of a piano ballad. “You don’t have a choice here, you have to pick sides,” Ward warns on the song “Dream Your Own History.” “The most profitable market is one where we’re divided.”
Back at the surface, Ward’s musical compositions do not disappoint. The musician lends vocals, bass and robust guitar chops throughout the record, showing himself as both a capable songwriter and a skilled guitarist.
When the music begins to sound monotonous, Ward reels listeners in with an arena-worthy solo, like the two-minute shred fest on “Circle the Wagons.” The balance between acoustic and electric guitar keeps it interesting, and live drums maintain a simple, pleasant rhythm.
“Dream Your Own History” is testimony rock — music that pleases the ear and challenges preconceived notions. On his first album, Ward accomplishes that rare feat: a successful transmission of complex, thought-provoking ideas through melody, ambiance and wholesome musicianship.
J. Matthew Ward's music can be found online at jmatthewward.bandcamp.com.