Album Review: Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, ‘Skeleton Crew’
The debut by mother-son duo Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear begins with the lyric, "All I need is a sip of cherry cola and pie" -- the first of several instances where the music hints at a profound yearning for a simpler time.
Song titles like "Silent Movies," "Modern Day Mystery," "Whole Lotta Problems," "Undertaker and Juniper" and "Down in Mississippi" all evoke a bygone innocence, even when the songs themselves delve into edgier subjects such as homelessness and military service. At times, Madisen Ward favors an almost naive, gee-willikers delivery style that would completely dislocate the music from the present if not for his mother Ruth. The "Mama Bear" mostly sings backup to her son's leads, but her presence practically glows with a wisdom that authenticates the sentiments in the songs.
Given that the Wards honed their earthy brand of country-folk in Kansas City coffee houses before stepping into the national spotlight, producer Jimmy Abbis chose to capture the pair with minimal window dressing -- a shrewd tactic considering his work with the likes of Adele and Arctic Monkeys. The recording sounds both intimate and spacious, with Ruth and Madisen's acoustic guitars mixed so that each essentially takes up one side of the stereo field on its own. Even moreso than their vocal harmonizing, their guitar playing reveals the deep, familial bond that gives their music its heartbeat.
The Wards intertwine their guitar parts with ease, each strumming off the other in a kind of musical symbiosis. And no matter how softly they hit the strings, their unspoken cohesion radiates with a power that makes it clear they mean business.