Americana mother-son duo Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear made their first splash on the scene with their folksy hit “Silent Movies” off their 2015 album Skeleton Crew. Ward’s deep, spirited vocals brought gravitas to that album’s collection of catchy, spirited tunes.
On their newest EP, The Radio Winners, Madisen and Ruth Ward chose to work with a number of different producers on the six song collection to further push their sound into more expansive territories, and the results are strong all around.
Throughout, there are richer harmonies, orchestral flourishes, and layers to the production that give a full-band sound to the two person group. The nostalgic first single, “Childhood Goodbye”, builds off acoustic strumming with a handclap marching beat and whistle solo that gives the piece that connects it musically to songs from a bygone era, fitting for a song about leaving ones past behind.
Every song on the album distinguishes itself. On “Mother Mary”, one can hear hints of Gotye in the 80’s electronic rock touches, but the tune becomes far more haunting, with references to voodoo and tombs under the shadow of an eerie, lilting harmonica ominously fluttering in the background. Compare this to the gleaming folk pop of “Walk in the Park, with its finger snaps, fiddles, and gorgeous outro.
Ward’s melodies dive and soar in interesting and unexpected ways, creating warmth on the acoustic waltz of “Everybody’s Got Problems” (which lyrically strays close to R.E.M.‘s “Everybody Hurts” at times), and twisting and turning around the gothic-lite folk rock on “Hell and Back”, which ends with lush instrumentation akin to the work of Lee Hazelwood or Burt Bacharach.
Ruth also gets a chance to shine on the closer “Family Treason”, singing over delicate chords and finger-picked guitars before a children’s choir kicks in. Her lyrics, “Is anybody out there, is anybody missing me” quiver with vulnerability as she delivers them. The song is a bit all over the place, from its funkier bass beat to it’s soulful, clap-accompanied chorus, but it all works to the group’s favor (though the kids choir takes the song a little too over-the-top kitsch).
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear are proving to be one of the most eclectic folk groups playing today, showing an increased depth and creativity as they let their sound evolve. Take a listen below.