Not surprisingly in this upside-down year, I’ve found myself listening to, and writing about, any number of cover songs. Quite honestly, it’s been refreshing. Finding new ways to interpret other writers’ songs has allowed artists to stretch their creative and performing muscles in a time when they can’t tour (and, hopefully, provide a small influx of cash in the process). Songwriter and ace guitar player Madison Cunningham is providing us with a new EP this week, Wednesday. Based on her “Weekly Wednesday Covers” performances on her YouTube page, she’s allowed herself to move beyond her comfort zone, giving her gorgeous voice the showcase it deserves.
The first cut on the EP is Cunningham’s take on Tom Waits’ “Hold On.” Waits wrote the song with his wife, Kathleen Brennan, and his original version is primarily acoustic guitar accompanying Waits’ trademark gruffness. The song itself is the story of a young woman who leaves a stifling small town – “If you live it up, you won’t live it down” – to find love and adventure in California while still holding onto herself and her personality. Cunningham plays a strummed electric guitar and lets her voice shine (known for her guitar chops, you almost forget how pretty her voice is).
Net up in John Mayer’s “Age of Worry,” which puts Cunningham’s outstanding acoustic work front and center. And while Mayer’s original sounds like it could easily be squeezed into next week’s “This Is Us” episode, Cuningham’s take is less busy and feels quieter and more immediate – “Alive in the age of worry/Smile in the age of worry” might actually sound promising as 2020 draws to a close. Her take on The Beatles’ “In My Life” is sweet and dreamy, enhanced by accompanying vocals from singer-songwriter-producer Mike Viola.
The true surprise on the EP is…”No Surprises.” Immediately identifiable as a Radiohead song (even to this non-Radiohead fan), Cunningham bases her version on piano (the original features acoustic guitar, keys and synth). Breaking away from guitar allows Cunningham’s voice to once again take center stage. The song (like many Thom Yorke tunes) starts quiet and disconsolate – “A heart that’s full up like a landfill/A job that slowly kills you” – but Cunningham’s voice soars as she gets to the apex, a simple life full of “no alarms and no surprises, please.” After the past eight months, that seems like the type of anti-climax we’ve been asking for.
Wednesday was produced by Madison Cunningham, recorded by Cunningham, Tyler Chester and Tejas Leier Heyden, mixed by Chester and Eric Boulanger and mastered by Boulanger. Additional musicians include Mike Viola (vocals, guitar) and Tyler Chester (piano).
Listen to Wednesday here: https://madisoncunningham.lnk.to/wednesdayWE
Check out “Weekly Wednesday Covers” here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi4u2bJdg8RpT7QZYX_K0BA