Ward Thomas are back with their signature sound and a familiar theme. ‘Music in the Madness’ is the fifth album from Catherine and Lizzy, and showcases the best of all that has gone before. The girls have really found their voice now, like flowers blossoming and blooming from the seeds of ‘From Where We Stand’ with the sweet fragrance of ‘Cartwheels’ and opulent petals of ‘Restless Minds’. Theirs is an authentic voice, with lyrics sharp and succulent, refreshing and embalming heart and soul with hope and love. Encased in a tender blend of country, folk and pop, it is as much an antidote to the uncertainty of present times as it is a celebration of the best of humanity.
This is expressed no better than in the title track, which opens the album. Inspired by the resilience of Ukrainians in the face of war twelve months ago, it is packed with wisdom. An uplifting anthem for our times, it calls us to “talk about the light in the dark… peace in the chaos… love in the anger… freedom in fear”. In typical Ward Thomas style, they turn an aching world upside down, courageously digging deep in order to find the gold. There is plenty of it glistening here, revealing itself most readily in a number of lovesongs, chief among them being ‘Next to You’. This relates the best of relationship, companionship and/or friendship (or all three) through an infectiously light brand of country-pop that has become their staple. It works so effectively with their harmonious vocals and heartening stories, continuing through ‘All Over Again’ and ‘Love Does’ which both mark love as a journey as much as a destination.
There are some more steely songs on the album too. ‘Justice and Mercy’ adopts a more distinct trad-country style to offer a sharp critique of contemporary debate. The concluding chorus line “half the town cried Mercy / half the town cried Justice / and nobody got their way” is cutting in its semblance of the ongoing culture wars and political stand-offs played out most readily in today’s media. Similarly, their acoustically-driven cover of Razorlight’s hit song ‘America’ subtly draws out the prescient lines “There’s panic in America… trouble in America” whilst keeping to an overarching theme of the album: of being held by love in unsettled times. Not that there isn’t room for an individualistic voice-cry, which comes courtesy here of ‘Joan of Arc’. A symbol of female empowerment at its finest, there is a steely determination that acts as the armour for this battle-hardened song, which takes its sword and wields it on ‘I Think I Hate You’ to cut-throat effect.
The atmosphere changes dramatically as the album approaches its end. ‘Unravel’ is made of a gentle folk-pop which beautifully expresses the sisters’ advocacy of mental health and wellbeing. It encapsulates the same restorative nature of ‘Where the Sky Is’ from their ‘Cartwheels’ album, encouraging an honesty and vulnerability to unravel a la ‘Hold Space’ from ‘Invitation’. This opening up of emotion and winding down of tempo continues into ‘Loved by You’ before the album closes with the sombre yet serene ‘Flower Crowns’. A touching tribute by Ward Thomas to one another, it references their growing up and growing old together; the fear of change from childhood to adulthood; and the letting go as part of life’s events and the passing of time. It appears mournful in its hummed melody but in such a way that breathes a reality which permeates this whole album. That is to say that ‘Music in the Madness’ embraces the fullness of human existence, inviting us, wherever we’re at, and however we feel, to “Sing it out, full voice, stand up, make noise, / Hey, hey, hey, we’re alive”.
Music in the Madness is out now, and can be purchased online from their website, where information about their upcoming tour, including dates and tickets, can also be found.
Originally written for and published on Belles & Gals on March 15th 2023.