Though more prevalent with more years to their credit, neither talent nor wisdom can be exclusively tied to age. Sometimes artists come out of the gate fairly fully formed with enough of both to really make a statement. Fiona Apple certainly did, as well as Brandi Carlile. More recently, Jade Bird joined that list. And now it’s Madison Cunningham’s turn.
At a brisk 22 years old, Cunningham already boasts solid chops across the board — songwriting, singing, and playing. Which is reasonable, considering she’s been playing guitar for 15 years and writing songs for seven. In terms of comparisons, Apple comes closest, as Cunningham isn’t the big belter that Carlile is. Nor is she a pop powerhouse like Bird. Instead, she has a soulful, smoky smolder to her voice and style.
Even on first listen, Who Are You Now feels instantly familiar, from the quicksand time signatures of “Pin It Down” to the defiant posturing of “Trouble Found Me.” Early in the set, “Something to Believe In” feels not unlike something from a Broadway musical or a mid-classic Linda Ronstadt album, circa her Nelson Riddle era, but minus the orchestra. Further in, “Lookin’ Alive” borrows from and blends in African rhythms to drive itself and “Dry As Sand” lopes casually along with occasional Beatles flourishes and in no hurry to get anywhere other than the truth of that moment.
Taken all together, the album is a wondrous tapestry, each block telling one part of the whole story that is this remarkable young artist’s life. With so many years ahead of her, Madison Cunningham is going to be exciting to watch push boundaries, hers and others’.