Album of the Month: Madison Cunningham - Revealer
The idea of “revealing,” of showing someone something or something being shown to you, brings with it an inherent anticipation; whether that feeling is leading up to something good or bad is not always as clear. It feels like the world opened a dam for a deluge of revelations through the past couple of years, as our inner selves have become more apparent and critical in times of isolation and uncertainty. For Madison Cunningham, even as she was riding a wave of critical and professional success, a doubt crept in, a darkness as personal as it was a worldwide event. Many things became clear to Cunningham over the creation process of her latest work, even if that clarity just led to inconclusiveness, and the end result, Revealer, is a portrait of an artist working through her struggles, and doing her best to come out on the other side complete.
One thing that has certainly not changed with Cunningham even in times of turmoil is her instrumental and songwriting prowess, with her ability to juggle her agile voice with deft, assured guitar playing. Take for example the track “Anywhere,” with its odd meter licks and her vocal dancing around each other, with a grace masking the turbulent emotions in the lyrics underneath. The album’s opener “All I’ve Ever Known” follows a similar path, a song built on reflection in stasis, the narrator wondering what’s in store next. As a technical note of interest here, it's reported that Cunningham performs all the instruments on this track, showing not only a proficiency outside her main ax but a clear artistic vision that shines even through a difficult creation. The album’s most poignant moment, and singular ballad, comes halfway through with “Life According To Raechel,” a song for Cunningham’s grandmother who passed away during Revealer’s writing process. The song perfectly encapsulates the lack of closure in grief, the ways that memory fails and words remain unsaid in the wake of losing a loved one. The tribute has a current of inevitable regret flowing through it, but I believe that Cunningham giving this song what I think is the album’s most beautiful melody is a fitting token of gratitude. In rowdier places on the album, and on opposing sides of songs about others, “Your Hate Could Power A Train” is an appropriately-dissonant ode to an ex-partner, where Cunningham lays out in no uncertain terms why this relationship had to end.
Even when grappling with difficult emotions and personal moments, Cunningham’s uncanny ability to write a song about it triumphs over all. She’s admitted in interviews and press material that this album in particular was challenging to create, with a host of expectations and pressure of global and internal chaos weighing heavily on her mind. I believe those admissions and acknowledgements make this album an even greater creative feat, that in spite of all the obstacles, Cunningham has reached a career highwater mark. Revealer is a testament to trying in earnest to work your way up from a bad hand, to opening up to yourself and learning to work with what you find there. Even if you’re always “one man down” as the song “Hospital” states, you’re “dressed up” and ready anyhow.
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