Started with a Family. It’s an apt title for the latest album from Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear. The duo from Independence, after all, are a mother and her son—Ruth “Mama Bear” Ward and Madisen Ward, respectively.

The two—who play an infectious blend of folk, blues, and Americana—are not the archetypal family, though. Sure, music was a part of the Wards’ household, but they didn’t start collaborating until 2014. Inspired by watching his mom play coffeehouses in the Independence area while growing up, Madisen started messing around with a guitar himself around age nineteen. Before too long, the two started jamming together at home.

From there, the band fell into a songwriting process. Madisen would write songs, and then the two would flesh them out together, each bringing their own unique influences. Madisen leans toward listening to emotive male singers like Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Tom Waits, and Ruth takes cues from the folkies of yesteryear, such as Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and Simon & Garfunkel. Each also brings their own musical skill set to the table.

“My mom can do a lot of intricate stuff with a pick that I just can’t do,” Madisen says.

It wasn’t long before their uncannily harmonious sounds caught the attention of Nashville. After working with music industry veteran Jim Abbiss, the band released their debut album, The Skeleton Crew, in 2015 and proceeded to promote it all over the world, with slots on The Late Show with David Letterman, the UK’s Later … with Jools Holland, an NPR Tiny Desk Concert, and more. The album showcases Madisen and Ruth’s natural sound but rounds it out with lush instrumentation—stomping drums, fiddles, and even some cricket sounds.

The most recent Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear album came together by the virtue of the band’s relationship with Grammy-winning producer Nathan Chapman, known primarily for his work with Taylor Swift.

The album immediately strikes a different tone. The mood is intimate. The sound is raw and organic. From its first moments, it sounds like you’re being invited to witness something special.

“It’s really our music in its pure form,” Madisen says.

“Happy times are coming, baby. Happy times are here” are the first lyrics of the kickoff track, and it’s a refreshing, warm, and welcoming note that starts the journey that Started with a Family takes listeners on. From there, they continue to tell stories through songs that are celebratory, emotional, sad, and life-affirming. Although the album ended up centering on stories of growing up, love, and, of course, family, that wasn’t the band’s intention.

“Thematically it could have been about anything,” Madisen says. “As long as the tracks were supporting a deep-rooted, organic style of songwriting, we thought we would put it on the record.”

The batch of ten songs ended up being a mix of new and old songs. Whatever caught Chapman’s ear as fitting in with the others. The test ended up being, are these songs timeless? The answer is yes.

Now more than ever—in an increasingly fast-paced, connected, and often pessimistic world—songwriting like this seems to matter. It’s a breath of fresh air, thoughtful reflection on the human experience, and a hopeful reminder that good times are coming.

Photo // Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear