Singer-songwriter Madison Cunningham ended her first headline tour at Ann Arbor’s The Ark, showcasing her debut album Who Are You Now that earned a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album.
S.G. Goodman, a small-town artist (and part-time farmer), welcomed the crowd of 400 or so with a mix of songs from her debut album Old Time Feeling. Like her 70s shag cut, S.G. Goodman’s tracks are wonderfully layered, merging edgy rock and blues-inspired chords as she reflects on the complexities of the slow, simple life in Kentucky. Though she admits she doesn’t have any happy tunes, she lightens the mood with her ad-libs, leaving new fans laughing. With admirable honesty, S.G. Goodman proves to be a triple threat — singer, songwriter and comedian — while noting her farming family “doesn’t get out much” and joking she is legally obligated to mention her name at least seven times throughout the set — though she isn’t sure if it’s because her manager worries she will forget her own name or the audience will. S.G. Goodman’s straightforward nature and rust-belt-worn voice shines in the highlight of her set, “Space and Time.”
After a brief intermission in the intimate Ark, Madison Cunningham takes the stage, shifting from S.G. Goodman’s brand of folk-rock to her own multi-genre magic. She doesn’t wait to communicate the depth of her discography, opening the set with the clever track on social commentary “Beauty Into Cliches” before transitioning to a slew of songs from her 2019 album.
Master of metaphor and inflection, Cunningham dazzles the crowd with the perfectly-paced, frustration-laced “Trouble Found Me,” relating, “you give me the disease / now you’re selling me the cure.” She moves into a steelier, sharper version of “Pin It Down,” during which she conveys her command of rhythm through the track’s groovy riffs and rumbling bridges. Sharing a few unreleased tracks, Cunningham establishes that her talent knows all genres; “Anywhere” is a pop-soaked track invigorated with electrified keys and an infectious hook that lives rent-free in the head. Cunningham shows she needs no help from her heels as she rises to her tiptoes and climbs the neck of her guitar to hit the harder notes.
Slowing things down, Cunningham shares the formative experiences of her 25 years in the bubbly “Song In My Head,” allowing her vocal range to carry her through the straightforward verses and soft, soulful chorus. S.G Goodman returns to the stage for a duet of “Life According to Raechel,” an unreleased memorial to Cunningham’s late grandmother. Cunningham’s voice leaves no need for a symphony, ringing with the wisdom of grief as she sings “it’s not if, darling, it’s when” and “this world and its people are all we have,” an axiom of particular timeliness in wake of the pandemic.
Slow-burning Americana masterpiece “Like You Do” recounts the self-conflict of love, complete with docile strings and enchanted chords before Cunningham reaches a new high with “Common Language.” Her voice proves remarkable as she builds a unique dimension above an echoed bridge graced with symphonic strings.
The broadway-worthy autobiographical track “L.A. (Looking Alive)” is simultaneously cynical, jazzy and apprehensive while paying homage to Cunningham’s California roots, a reflection that transitions into the darker “Something To Believe In.” The final track of her set honors her voice and wisdom, both beyond their years, as she woefully muses “kingdoms are just sand / and a throne is just a chair.”
Sharing there is no place she would rather be is hardly necessary, as her face permanently holds a grin while she shares her discography, which lasts even during her darker musings on mortality, heartbreak and loss. Throughout her time touring, sharing the stage with independent icon Andrew Bird and pop star Harry Styles, she has established herself as an artist to watch. Seamlessly merging the best parts of rock, folk, and pop with lyrics of pure poetry, Cunningham has invented her own universe where her genius is unmatched and her future promising.
Read The Michigan Daily’s 2021 interview with Madison Cunningham here.