|Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear — Skeleton Crew|
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear — Skeleton Crew
•• Mother and son acoustic duo from Missouri who deliver a powerful blend of folk, blues, and gospel sounds.
Location: Kansas City, MO
Album release: May 19, 2015
Record Label: Glassnote Entertainment Group LLC
01 Live by the Water 5:25
02 Silent Movies 3:19
03 Modern Day Mystery 4:40
04 Dead Daffodils 5:03
05 Whole Lotta Problems 3:26
06 Fight On 7:41
07 Yellow Taxi 4:14
08 Daisy Jane 3:31
09 Been in a Ditch 0:51
10 Undertaker and Juniper 4:10
11 Down in Mississippi 7:06
12 Sorrows and Woes 3:28
℗ 2015 Glassnote Entertainment Group LLC
•• Madisen Ward.
•• Ruth Ward.
Review by Mark Deming; Score: ****
•• To say Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear have a great gimmick stretches the boundaries of understatement — a guy in his late twenties harmonizing and switching back and forth on lead guitar with his mother in her early sixties is likely to get press even if their music was little more than adequate. However, the debut album from the duo, 2015's Skeleton Crew, confirms that this pair get over honestly on their talent, showing impressive skills as vocalists, instrumentalists, and songwriters. Madisen Ward gets top billing here for good reason: his rich but flexible voice boasts a wealth of dramatic power, and he absolutely knows how to sell these songs, spinning his literate stories of Southern life with the skill of a gifted actor. But if Madisen Ward is the star of the show, Ruth Ward (aka Mama Bear) is a more than worthy collaborator: her high, sweet, supporting vocals complement her son's very well, and while the guitar work here is subtle, the two players weave their instrumental lines around one another with artful intelligence, giving the melodies a strength that doesn't get in the way of their folkie simplicity. And while this duo is clearly informed by blues, folk, and gospel sounds, it doesn't land comfortably in any particular camp; these melodies may be elemental, but they're hardly simple; they're a fine match for lyrics which deal with the stuff of ordinary lives with compassion and perception, ranging from love and war to pie and Cherry Coke. Jimmy Abbiss' production captures the interplay between the musicians very well, focusing on the acoustic space of the voices and guitars, and providing accompaniment that enhances the songs rather than weighing them down. If it takes the family band angle to get Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear into the marketplace, let it be said that far more intrusive gimmicks have been used in the service of far less satisfying music, and Skeleton Crew is a debut with heart, soul, and fine songs to spare.
Artist Biography by Mark Deming
•• They say a boy's best friend is his mother, but Madisen Ward knows she can also be a good person to make music with. Ward and his mother, Ruth Ward, unexpectedly became the talk of the roots–music scene in 2014 when the mother–and–son duo Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear gained a bundle of media attention for their music, a low–key but powerful blend of acoustic guitars and vocals that melds elements of folks, blues, and gospel, creating a sound that draws on the past and the present.
•• Born in Gary, Indiana in 1952, Ruth Whitlock grew up with a love of music, and as a teenager she was fascinated by many of the rock and folk artists of the '60s, especially Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Laura Nyro. After leaving home and travelling to the Southwest with some friends, Ruth was 19 she bought an acoustic guitar and learned how to play. Ruth began playing coffeehouses and toured through the Midwest, playing and singing her songs for a growing audience, and cut a pair of independent albums. While living in Norman, Oklahoma for a spell, Ruth fell in love with Kenneth Ward, and the two settled down in Independence, Missouri. While Ruth Ward continued to perform occasionally, she put her career on the back burner when she and Kenneth welcomed their first child; the Wards would have three children, but only their youngest, Madisen Ward, born in 1988, shared his mother's enthusiasm for making music. Like his mother, Madisen picked up the guitar at age 19, and within a few years he started playing coffeehouses and acoustic venues in Independence and St. Louis, three hours down the road. Like his mother, Madisen had a strong voice and a gift for songwriting, and Ruth would often sit at the kitchen table with Madisen, playing guitars together, harmonizing, and swapping ideas for songs. After a spell, Ruth began sitting in at Madisen's coffee house performances, and vice versa.
•• The duo began playing together as Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, and by 2013 had earned a following in Kansas City, recording an independent EP, We Burned the Cane Fields, which picked up airplay on local roots music radio shows. In 2014, Madisen and Ruth were invited to perform at the Americana Music Association's annual Americana Fest, held in September in Nashville, Tennessee; they played a show at the offices of Jack White's Third Man Records that impressed journalists and tastemakers, one of whom was Adam Gold, a writer for Rolling Stone. The noted rock magazine declared the performance one of the "20 Best Things We Saw at Americana Music Fest," and Gold added, "the duo's raw, inscrutable chemistry was in full effect as they handily made a case as an inevitable force to be reckoned with in the days to come." The rave review helped win the duo a guest appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, and by the end of 2014, Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear landed a record contract with Glassnote Records. Their debut album, Skeleton Key, arrived in May 2015.
Press: Alexandra Dunne
Sacks & Co.
Agent: Don Muller
BY ADAM GOLD, May 13, 2015
•• You may have heard the buzz surrounding Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, a mother–and–son folk duo who, in a matter of months, went from being denizens of the Kansas City coffeehouse scene to an appearance on Letterman and, this past weekend, a profile on CBS Sunday Morning. Now music fans can hear what all the well–deserved fuss is about. Skeleton Crew, the pair's debut full–length lands May 18th, but the album is streaming exclusively now on Rolling Stone Country.
•• “There was a certain kind of sound that I wanted to make sure that we were staying true to, a certain organic rawness that I wanted to maintain,” Madisen Ward tells Rolling Stone Country. “[Instead] of studying a lot of other musicians and using other formats. I just wanted to capture the music in its most raw, natural state. And I feel like that was always kind of our goal.”
•• On Skeleton Crew, producer Jimmy Abbiss (Adele, Artic Monkeys) stays out of the music's way as he captures the tranquil intimacy of sublime acoustic–guitar–and–vocals–only story songs like "Dead Daffodils" and "Undertaker and Juniper." On poppier toe–tappers like lead–off single "Silent Movies" or "Daisy Jane," and cryptic blues offerings like "Modern Day Mystery," Abbiss adds few frills (the occasional train beat on a snare drum here, a tambourine or electric guitar lead there). That careful approach works for a set of songs that tackle life–and–death themes with character sketches and snapshots of the living that happens in between.
•• “There's definitely a lot of fictional behavior in the way I write,” Ward says. “There's a lot of tall tales. . . For me, it's usually just about capturing emotion, as opposed to really letting people into my personal life. . . I really like to be outlandish and just come from wherever sounds good at the time.”
•• Currently the band has dates with Rodrigo y Gabriela, the Tallest Man on Earth and the Avett Brothers on the books, along with slots at high–profile festivals like Bonnaroo and the Newport Folk Festival.
Hal Horowitz May 19th, 2015 at 9:24 am; Score: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
|Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear — Skeleton Crew|