Reviewed by: Dan Williams
It doesn’t get “rootsier” than this mother and son duo.
They have become the epitome of an overnight success on the national stage, especially after an appearance on Letterman and now CBS Sunday Morning. In reality, Ward (26) and his mother Ruth Ward (62) have been performing together in Kansas City coffee shops for nearly six years.
In a modern musical universe where all someone needs is an Apple iMac and Auto-Tune, their earthy, homespun analog charm is more than refreshing.
Ward plays lead acoustic guitar and serves as songwriter and primary vocalist with his forceful unpolished raw baritone voice. Mama Ward plays rhythm acoustic on most tracks and occasionally sings back up. Their new album Skeleton Crew was produced by Jim Abbiss (Adele, Arctic Monkeys) and he thankfully resists any temptation to “gussy up” the sound. These clever songs are left in their natural state and we’re thankful for that!
If Disney were looking for someone to update some of their classic tunes like Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah or any of the charming Jungle Book songs, they need look no further. And that is high praise.
Ward’s stories and melodies sound like they’re straight out of the Mississippi of the thirties with a touch of Robert Johnson and a whole lot of positivity. Album opener “Live By The Water” signals the experiences one will have with the simplicity of this delightful album: “All I need is a sip of cherry cola and pie. When I die you’re gonna know the reasons why. Live hard, breathe out, break a couple of bones and cut that wire between you and your telephone.”
In the bouncy “Silent Movies” Ward sings “How ‘bout we just sing forever, bring your hands close together” … yeah, that’s about what this album is about.
Until we hear the wonderful “Undertaker and Juniper.” While the guitar accompaniment is disarmingly cheerful, the story is about a young woman named Juniper heading to her hanging as told from the point of view of the undertaker and his personal feelings for her.
Every song is a story and played with great virtuosity. Ward’s voice is endearing and memorable. Mama Ruth is delightful in her backing guitar and vocals. I just hope future producers don’t mess with this winning sound.