Madison Cunningham

REVIEW: Madison Cunningham “Revealer”


Madison Cunningham — Revealer

There’s an old Simpsons joke about giving unintentional voice to subtext, and Madison Cunningham’s latest album is all about saying the quiet part out loud. In Cunningham’s case, though, the revealing of personal hidden truths is wholly intentional. And, while her guitar wizardry and highly underrated voice are ever present, Revealer, full of little bits of introspection and observation, is, thematically and lyrically, her deepest record yet.

Revealer starts off with “All I’ve Ever Known,” a tribute of sorts to forging on, even when every shred of evidence would tell a more sensible person to stop. In Cunningham’s case, music is all she’s ever known, so back on the road she goes, hazardous van be damned – “If the fumes don’t kill you first, then the dreaming surely will.” As a further indicator of her individual will, Cunningham provides every note on this track, from backing vocals to cello.

For most of the album, though, she brings in a small band of aces. Matt Chamberlain, who’s played with, well, just about everyone, sits in on drums on “Hosplital,” the most straightforward rocker on Revealer. Pulsed by Cunningham’s fuzzed-out guitar riffs, the song speaks to the almost catastrophic amount of information we all get, all the time – “I am an antenna/A feeding tube and a hard drive.” Turns out, we’re nearly inseparable with our technology, at the expense of our happiness, health and imagination – “I want more time to waste.” And the frenetic nature of “Your Hate Could Power a Train” (GREAT title) features Cunningham and her band fighting to keep the song on the rails in the face of nearly overwhelming toxicity – “Your name is a torch to the skin, and I’ve heard it/Spoken it so many times it hardly sounds like a word.”

The emotional centerpiece of Revealer is “Life According to Raechel,” a song about Cunningham losing her grandmother. Slowed down and supported by a lovely string section, Cunningham sings (quite beautifully) of life’s unfortunate habit of getting in its own way – “But how long were you waiting for me/To make a left down your street?” There are moments missed, yes – “The nurse said you were waiting for me/To let go, to let it be.” But the important part is in the line she chooses to begin and end the song with – “Once your girl/I’m always your girl.” Cunningham was pushed by producer Tyler Chester to record the song because, even though it unearthed painful memories, it also voices one of those truths that needs to be revealed – the permanent mark of deep personal relationships, imperfect as they may be, is what makes us whole.

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Anywhere” – Lyrical depth is lovely, but I’ll always be swayed by a kick-ass guitar solo.

Revealer was produced by Tyler Chester, Mike Elizondo and Tucker Martine, recorded by Chester, Martine, David Boucher, Justin Francis and Madison Cunningham, mixed by Francis, Boucher and Martine and mastered by Chris Gehringer. All songs were written by Cunningahm, with co-writes going to Chester, Elizondo, Dan Wilson and Mikki Ekko. Additional musicians on the album include Chester (bass, MPC loop, bass drum, percussion), Elizondo (electric bass, upright bass, synth bass, synths, drum programming, electric guitar), Matt Chamberlain (drums, congas, percussion), Jesse Chandler (flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax), John Arndt (string arrangement), Kate Gungor (violin), David Campbell (cello), Tia Allen (viola), Lavinia Pavlish (violin), Aaron Sterling (drums, percussion), Rob Burger (piano, synths, pump organ, Wurlitzer, B3, Vox Continental), Paul Cartwright (strings, string arrangement), McKenzie Smith (drums, percussion), Philip Kronengold (Casio, mellotron), Ryan Franesconi (string arrangement), Anna Fritz (cello) and Mirabai Peart (violin, viola).

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