Headliner :: Madison Cunningham
Opener :: Jordan Tice
With its sharp storytelling and bursts of electric guitar, Who Are You Now is Madison Cunningham's coming-of-age record — a diverse album that's modern, melodic, and rooted in the 21-year-old's observations of her own fast-changing world.
"The past year was a largely transitional one for me. It felt like all at once I was living in a new city and a new era of my life, trying to find where I fit, what I believed, and who my people were. It doesn't matter how many great examples you have to look up to, when it’s your turn to face adulthood, you feel like you’re scrambling for the right tools. Writing this record really forced me to take an honest look at where I came from, what my dreams and fears were, and who I was becoming as a result.”
Cunningham began searching for answers during her childhood in Orange County, California. A guitarist since the age of 7, she began performing alongside her father — a worship pastor and lifelong musician — at a local church. By 15 years old, she was writing her own songs and exploring her own voice as a musician. Playing an integral role in that process was Tyler Chester, a multi-instrumentalist and studio guru who'd worked with artists like Jackson Browne, Blake Mills, and Andrew Bird. Later, after leaving home and moving to Los Angeles, Cunningham's list of champions grew to encompass the likes of Sara Watkins, Chris Thile, and the Milk Carton Kids' Joey Ryan.
"When I met 15-year-old Madi and she played one of her early songs for me, it struck me within the first 15 seconds that I was witnessing one of the most purely musical human beings I would ever meet," says Chester. "She was young and her skillset unrefined, but already at her core was that same unteachable magic that you hear amplified in her today."
By 2018, magazines like Rolling Stone were taking note of Cunningham's sound, calling it "a new spin on West Coast folk-rock, with classical tendencies, electric guitars, jazz-school chord changes and alt-rock strut all living beneath the same roof." She hit the road that same year as the Punch Brothers' opening act, using the opportunity to test her newest songs in front of a live audience. She stood out — not only for her unique melodies, elastic voice, and deft approach to the electric guitar, but also for her honest storytelling.
Recorded at Sonic Ranch — a remote studio in El Paso, Texas, located on a pecan farm — Who Are You Now finds Cunningham contemplating her life after big changes. These 14 songs are filled with sharply-detailed observations about romance, relationships, self-reliance, and the pursuit of her muse. On the moodily cinematic "Something to Believe In," she delivers words of assurance to her husband. On "Plain Letters," she uses Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar" as the launchpad for a song about anxiety and self-empowerment. "Pin It Down" sets a lovers' quarrel to a funky sound- track of pop hooks and rotating time signatures, while "L.A. (Looking Alive)" finds Cunningham maintaining a sense of perspective and humility, even as her music career continues to ascend.
Jordan Tice is a singer/songwriter who combines witty musings on life, relationships, and time with deft finger-picking acoustic guitar skills. On his 5th record, Motivational Speakeasy, he breaks it down to just his voice and acoustic guitar for a collection of music that is while deeply informed by the rich history of American folk music, forward-thinking and modern in its conceit. Produced by Kenneth Pattengale (of The Milk Carton Kids), Motivational Speakeasy contains evidence of a variety of influences. From the classic Mississippi John Hurt style melodic blues of "Matter of Time" and "Goin on Down", to the dissonant Tom Waits-like shuffle of "Creation's Done" to the philosophical early Dylanesque chatter of "Walkin'" and "Where I'm At", Tice spins his influences into a variety of highly personal, well-crafted songs. In addition, the album contains 3 instrumental tracks where Tice showcases his narrative guitar-playing and composing.