Madison Cunningham thrives at The Ark, Ann Arbor

Singer-songwriter Madison Cunningham ended her first headline tour on Ann Arbor’s The Ark and presented her debut album Who Are You Now, which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album.

SG Goodman, a small-town artist (and part-time farmer), greeted the 400 or so viewers with a mix of songs from her debut album, Old Time Feeling. Like her 70s shag cut, SG Goodman’s tracks are wonderfully layered, fusing edgy rock and blues-inspired chords as she ponders the complexities of the slow, simple Kentucky life. Though she admits she doesn’t have happy melodies, she lifts the mood with her ad-libs and makes new fans laugh. With admirable honesty, SG Goodman reveals herself to be a triple threat – singer, songwriter, and comedian – while noting that her peasant family “doesn’t get much out of it” and joking that she is legally required to mention her name at least seven times throughout the set – Though she’s not sure if it’s because her manager fears she is forgetting her own name or the audience. SG Goodman’s straightforward nature and her voice, carried by the rust on her belt, shines in the highlight of her set “Space and Time”.

After a short break in the intimate Ark, Madison Cunningham takes the stage, switching from SG Goodman’s folk rock to her own multi-genre magic. Not waiting to communicate the depth of her discography, she opens the set with the clever track on social commentary “Beauty Into Cliches” before moving on to a number of songs from her 2019 album.

A master of metaphor and inflection, Cunningham amazes the crowd with the perfectly paced, frustrated “Trouble Found Me,” which says, “You’re giving me the disease / now you’re selling me the cure.” She shifts to a steely, sharper version from “Pin It Down”, in which she conveys her mastery of rhythm through the groovy riffs and rumbling bridges of the track. Sharing some unreleased tracks, Cunningham finds that her talent knows all genres; “Anywhere” is a pop-soaked track, enlivened with electrified keys and an infectious hook that lives rent-free in your head. Cunningham reveals she doesn’t need any help from her heels as she stands on tiptoe and climbs over the neck of her guitar to hit the harder notes.

Things slow down Cunningham and share the formative experiences of her 25 years in the bubbly “Song In My Head,” where her vocal range carries her through the straight lines and the soft, soulful chorus. SG Goodman returns on stage for a duet of “Life According to Raechel,” an unpublished memorial to Cunningham’s late grandmother. Cunningham’s voice does not allow for a symphony, rings with the wisdom of sadness while she sings “it’s not if, darling, it’s when” and “this world and its people are all we have”, an axiom particularly topical in the wake of the pandemic.

The slow-burning Americana masterpiece “Like You Do” tells the self-conflict of love, complete with docile strings and enchanted chords, before Cunningham hits a new high with “Common Language”. Her voice proves remarkable as it builds a unique dimension over a reverberant bridge adorned with symphonic strings.

The Broadway-worthy autobiographical track “LA (Looking Alive)” is cynical, jazzy and fearful at the same time as it pays homage to Cunningham’s Californian roots, a reflection that fades into the darker “Something To Believe In”. The final track of her set honors her voice and wisdom, both beyond her years, as she ponders sadly, “Kings are just sand / and a throne is just a chair”.

There’s little need to share where she’d rather be, as her face keeps grinning as she shares her discography, which continues even during her darker brooding over mortality, heartache, and loss. During her time on tour, sharing the stage with independent icon Andrew Bird and pop star Harry Styles, she has established herself as an artist to watch. By seamlessly merging the best bits of rock, folk and pop with lyrics of pure poetry, Cunningham has invented her own universe where her genius is unmatched and her future is bright.

Read the Michigan Daily 2021 interview with Madison Cunningham here.

Daily Arts Contributor Leah Leszczynski can be reached at [email protected]

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