Jake Ward’s September 2015 release, “Love Don’t Live Here”, is an outright impressive collection of ten well-written, pristinely-performed songs . The Corpus Christi-based country newcomer is well on his way to establishing himself as an artist and songwriter to be reckoned with. Ward’s band, composed of guitarist Paul Teltschik, fiddler Owen Fitzsimmons, drummer Daniel Hawkins and bassist Mitchell Williams, is well-versed and altogether musically gifted, their play on “Love Don’t Live Here” consistently exuding many aspects of excellent musicianship. A singing assortment of stringed instruments begins the attention-grabbing, intriguing introduction of ‘Love Don’t Live Here’ with tight instrument performances. Ward’s vocals enter confidently and impressively overtop a strutting, bouncy bass groove. Ward’s vocals are soulful, his tone refined and appealing, giving listeners time to ease into the track, and the album, for that matter. The track is highlighted by excellent musical performances from each member, a precedent that is set and maintained throughout the record’s run time. The production by Mason Shirley is extremely intelligent, with too many instances to name without giving away too much of the record. The upbeat, high-energy song comes and goes quickly, even with its run time of 3:34; at its close I found I was in drawn-in myself. Late in the song we’re met with an outstanding guitar solo and fiddler Owen Fitzsimmons riffing beautifully while bassist Mitchell Williams plays a running line off of octaves to things moving and interesting. Out The Door is also up-tempo yet with a quicker feel. Palm-muted rhythm guitars are present in the first verse, while lead guitar parts compliment Ward’s vocals fantastically. The drums really push the song, in the best way possible. The production is refined and calculated and the mix is spectacular. Every instrument and part works together in perfect cohesion. Nothing seems misplaced or underdone, a true testament to Shirley’s production, as it is truly an impressive job. Ward’s lyrics are both retrospective and introspective and his vocal performance is again precise. The lead guitar work in the transitions and during the solo after the second chorus is captivating.
‘Sleepless Nights’ is slower and more relaxed, and still, the performances don’t suffer. There’s a relatable quality immediately from the song’s introduction; Ward opens quickly with the question “Do you remember, all the times that we had?”, presumably posed to someone no longer in his life, immediately painting a heart-wrenching initial picture supported by the following lines. Similarly, the line “All these years gone by, I can still see that look in your eye” hits like a ton of bricks after the first chorus. Ward’s vocals are tinged with pain, the lyrics expressing true heartbreak and loneliness in a realistic, all-too-familiar manner. Later, an extremely soulful guitar solo, less distorted and more simplistic, is played expertly. The song closes beautifully, with the lead guitar and fiddle joining together in the beautiful, emotive melody. ‘Drive’ has a new feel, a seeming nod to country of yesteryear with an expertly-played chicken pick’n lick that sets the tone for the entire song. There are awesome vocal harmonies in the choruses and creative slide guitar parts, followed by great fiddle parts as the song nears its close and a second guitar solo occurs to play the song out. Teltschik’s guitar tone is outstanding throughout the record but especially evident here due to its prominent role in the song. ‘Slow Down’ reveals Ward’s need to “slow down”, both metaphorically (as he’s been hurt by a lost love and needs to reconvene, gather his thoughts and move forward) and literally (during the final verse he is overcome with emotions and is pulled over). The bass play throughout is extremely complimentary, especially towards the slide guitar lead, and again, while the first verse performance is more relaxed, showcasing a somewhat subdued vocal tone, Ward’s performance and pitch does not suffer. The second verse performance is more urgent, the lyrical content especially contemplative, soon followed by more vocal harmonies in the choruses. The well-timed harmonics from the electric guitar leading into the final chorus were a nice touch, too. ‘Ignorant Bliss’ has a similar feel, tempo and sound and similar reflective lyrics. It is so intelligent how Ward would place two seemingly-similar songs back to back, and then complete the comparison of similarities by offering contrasting perspectives that yet relate directly. Ward admits to mistakes and ignorance during the love of his youth while also recognizing that times were simpler and more preferable (“living life is easy, when you’re living fast”). The lyrics in the chorus are some of the best on the record, too. Fitzsimmons has an especially prominent role on this track, pairing nicely with Teltschik’s electric guitar leads.
The excellent quick lead guitar riffing that opens ‘Mr. Tonight’ has a rockier, ‘Country Girl (Shake It For Me)’ style vibe, yet in the open verses, nice finger-picked lines from the acoustic guitar underline Ward’s vocal parts during the first half of the first verse. An awesome pre chorus acts as a quick yet intellectual set-up to the chorus, both musically and lyrically. Later, a fast-moving guitar solo plays out over a moving bass line and the drum pattern additionally featured in each chorus. Picked lines on doubled acoustic guitars familiarly open ‘Take My Hand’ and are soon accompanied by a subtle, layered electric guitar lead that is sustained until Ward’s vocals enter. During the first verse, the lead guitar lines are simple, yet extremely complimentary and Ward’s vocal performance is strong. As the song progresses, we hear Ward begin to display his range, his vocal tone confident overtop excellent instrumentation. The song picks up near 45 seconds with a pounding kick drum and intricate hi-hat play; a brief instrumental transition leads to Ward’s band joining in. There’s a ton of energy, reemphasized by both backing and harmony vocal parts. The bass riff at 1:30 was particularly interesting; even more fascinating is a fiddle solo that follows overtop the song’s new amped up progression. The structuring of the song allows both Ward’s vocals and guitar lines to have their individual focus, too. Instrumentation is later decreased dynamically before a brief new vocal part leads into another high-energy section. The fiddle is present on much of the rest of the track, yet it is in a complimentary, background role from here on out. The song has exceptional flow and is an easy, inviting listen. Ward’s lyrics are intelligent and lead listeners on an ever-developing depth-filled journey. The song is able to change feeling fluidly and easily, with each instrument adjusting accordingly. The recording quality is outstanding, too, and the production, by Shirley, is top-notch.
‘See It All’ is slower and another song that features the intelligent use of stops and pauses to diversify songs and create intrigue (Ward and Shirley do a great job on this throughout the record). The tone of each instrument is again fantastic, the performances are impeccable, and vocal harmonies are again present in the choruses. ‘See It All’ might be the most underrated on the album, and is certainly one of the most excellently-executed, the deep storyline fighting through surface issues to connect on a real level. ‘One More Night’, the final song of “Love Don’t Live Here”, begins a cappella before Ward’s band joins the mix with a four-bar introduction. The vocal melody in the choruses is extremely appealing, as is the placement and inclusion of each instrument in these sections (especially the string parts). The storyline expands beautifully throughout the song’s run time and serves as a fitting closer to what is hard to believe is Ward’s debut release. Ward sings that he needs to “slow down” in the track of the same title, something he won’t be doing much of moving forward. It’s no surprise that Ward’s record has been steadily climbing country radio charts since its release in September. The touch of twang evident from the opening measures is present throughout the album, and Ward performs wonderfully throughout, expanding lyrically on his stories as the songs progress. This impressive record with numerous memorable melodies and choruses throughout only confirms that we’ll be hearing a lot more about Jake Ward in the months and years moving forward; each hook is outstanding and supported by a far-reaching use of varying chords and chord progressions. While there is similar content in many songs, the storyline is delivered in various methods using different perspectives and ideas. There’s no question that these songs come from a place of honesty and despair. The years-removed observation of this pain has allowed Ward to coax ten outstanding songs from his heart and soul. There isn’t a bad, unrefined or haphazard track on the entire record. Everything is heartfelt and intensely measured, a recurring theme, in all aspects, of “Love Don’t Live Here”.