I remember the very first time I ever heard Devendra Banhart’s voice. I remember thinking of the quote Jimi Hendrix said about “how he sees music in colors” and thinking Banhart had vocal chords that had to be painted in a swatch labeled “ROYGBIV”. Despite lacking a sonic case of synesthesia myself, Banhart’s voice had an eccentric narrative quality that matched his own homeless-guy-on-the-streets to record-releasing-indie-artist fairy tale. Last week, fully reaping the benefits of living in Nashville, I saw a last minute show during Americana Fest at Jack White’s Third Man Records and can now say I remember the very first time I saw Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear live.
Ward’s voice has a strange texture; rich and dramatic as if it wants to bellow big enough for an opera house, yet strained with the shards of emotion that litter the generational voices of soul singers. Then there are the different vocal personalities he portrays, like that of Frank Black or Isaac Brock, Ward throws his voice from falsetto yelps to low growls in an instant while retaining the same familiarity despite leaping across an emotional spectrum too varied for even legendary high school guidance counselors. Check out “Silent Movies” to see what I mean:
Then there is the excellent extracurricular story that publicists, journalists, labels, managers, and fans alike are going to adore. Madisen Ward is accompanied by his guitar wielding, backup-singing mother to make this a duo unlike any other. Like Jade Castrinos and Victoria Bergsman once did for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and Peter Bjorn and John respectively, the Mama Bear adds an understated female element you can’t imagine the song without once hearing her sing. During the show I saw, which captivated 100+ industry types in sheer silence, she commented about her guitar when handing it to her son, “I bought that guitar in 1979. I never knew that I would have son who would be playing it. That’s pretty cool.”
Also cool: everything about this Independence, Missouri duo, including the strong set of songwriting chops Ward possesses. I hope they’re ready for a fun and fast ride.