The Kansas City duo of Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear recorded its debut album, Skeleton Crew, in 2015 in Nashville with the help of Jim Abbiss and Glassnote Records and has now let loose another release, a live EP featuring half of the debut’s tracklist. After Madisen and Ruth Ward had frequented Grimey’s record shop during recording sessions, an opportunity arose for a different release and the shop offering both new and “preloved” music made for a fitting live space for the recording of the Ward’s second album, Live At Grimey’s, as a part of the 2016 installment of annual of Record Store Day releases.
In the first track of the album, in reference to the Tennessee heat felt at Grimey’s, Ruth Ward recalled her and her son’s experience at nearby Manchester’s annual Bonnaroo Music Festival in 2015 which was, among other things, hot. “We saw things we shouldn’t talk about,” she said. “Heard about things, too.” The folk of Madisen and his mother fit right in, though, as 2015 also brought performances at Newport Folk Festival and Americana Music Festival. After sharing a few songs on a live radio production of NPR’s Whad’ya Know? with Michael Feldman and live appearances on Today and Late Show with David Letterman, the Ward’s bring their best on Live At Grimey’s with warm harmonies and old stories.
The album dances from cover to cover and soulfully combines country and folk genres. Upbeat acoustic rhythms are a mainstay in the authentic sound of the duo on tracks like “Silent Movies” and “Daisy Jane,” but things slow down later on an eight minute favorite from the EP, “Fight On.” Beginning only with the voice and guitar of Ruth, Madisen’s guitar joins her as the theme enters and he sings until the two reconvene on the chorus and repeat “The only thing she said was fight on, fight on.” The track expands to the apex of the set with heartfelt guitar licks and sweeping cello before a last offering to the intimate crowd.
The encore, “Yellow Taxi,” follows and finishes the album on an energetic note with a folky 12-bar arrangement. This vintage take showcases Madisen’s voice extremely well and the backing band of Brent Kastler on bass, Tom Hudson on drums, and Larissa Maestro on cello all join in. The Ward’s and the crowd echo until the end “Last night I slept in a big yellow taxi / my imagination told me I was in the back seat / of course, that was the story I sung.”
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