Madison Cunningham’s new album, Revealer, is due out on September 9 from Verve Forecast, but for those enamored of the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter’s brand of storytelling, that may seem like a long haul. To ease the burden a bit, she popped into the NPR offices to make an appearance on their Tiny Desk Concert series, performing four of the tunes from her upcoming record.
Cunningham’s work shows a rare musical and lyrical sophistication. Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan are among her primary influences, so that tracks. But she brings something to the table that’s completely her own. That’s what has earned her so much attention up to now – she’s been nominated for a pair of Grammys so far, been celebrated by the likes of Andrew Bird and Sara Bareilles, and opened shows for Harry Styles.
On her Tiny Desk Concert appearance, she performs the new tunes “All I’ve Ever Known,” “Hospital,” “In from Japan,” and “Life According to Raechel.” Each song is full of lyrical, rhythmic, and harmonic surprises, but each operates in its own discrete way. Watching Cunningham perform live with her band and solo, one of the things that becomes immediately apparent is her unique approach to the guitar. She doesn’t go in for any flashy likes, but she sometimes seems to reinvent her approach to the instrument from the ground up.
That quality is present on Revealer as well. Cunningham says, “I’ve always been interested in different ways of approaching the guitar that challenges the way I think I should play it. I tried to explore that more fully and intentionally on this record. I pulled some inspiration from non-Western styles, like Afropop and South American music. I wanted to make the guitar sound more integral to the song structure and less like, ‘now here comes Mr. Electric Guitar.’”
Cunningham will be touring in support of the new album through the end of the fall, so there will be plenty of chances to catch her in action. But in the meantime, there’s this to tide us over.