Who Are You Now

Madison Cunningham

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Who Are You Now Review

by Marcy Donelson

In the two years between debuting her jazzy, nuanced folk-rock songs on the self-released Love, Lose, Remember EP and presenting her full-length Verve debut, Madison Cunningham was invited to tour with the Punch Brothers and Andrew Bird, perform on Chris Thile's public radio show, and guest on albums by the likes of Bird, Matt Redman, and J.S. Ondara. For the unacquainted, the allure of her textured voice and sophisticated guitar playing is evident on said debut, 2019's Who Are You Now. Also apparent are songwriting inspirations that range from Joni Mitchell and Jeff Buckley to Fiona Apple. The album reunites Cunningham with EP producer Tyler Chester, who previously collaborated with Sara Watkins, Blake Mills, and Julian Lage, to name a few. She opens the ten-track set with "Pin It Down," a groove-heavy look at a problematic relationship that features shifting time signatures, modest blues chops, and a sassy, radio-friendly melody. Like the rest of the album, it gets by with an efficient arrangement, in this case a spare rhythm section and intermittent electric guitar. Later, the quieter "Like You Do" makes do with threadbare acoustic guitar and violin. For something completely different, "Something to Believe In" is a theatrical, piano-based ballad ("If you need something to believe in/You can believe in my love"), and "Dry as Sand" opts for a late-night, brushed-snare half-whisper -- at least until the appearance of a rumbling, noir-esque guitar solo more than halfway through. Mostly concerned with imperfect relationships, Who Are You Now is confident and intimate in terms of subject matter and expression throughout these variations, all of which put vocal lines front and center. And "Song in My Head" isn't the only earworm.

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