Now/It's: Madison Cunningham at Ryman Auditorium

Sometimes, within the world of (entertainment) web writing, columnists (journalists, essayists, wordsmiths, etc.) are pressed to, on occasion, deal in hyperbole. Typically, such a practice is more common amongst the blowhards of sports (entertainment) journalists - “Why There Will Never Be Another Serena Williams” or something like that - but you wouldn’t be hard pressed to find similar approaches when it comes to music.

Most of the time the music version of “hyperbole ascription” comes in the form of “Artist X is Here to Save Genre Y” or “10 Reasons Why This is the Golden Age of Blah, Blah, Blah.” Editors’ mandates and listicles aside, it’s easy to understand why certain approaches are rolled out - in an ever over-stimulated media world, fewer and fewer people are reading, so hyperbolic value propositions are used to convince the reader to read a writer’s particular take versus another (otherwise known as “clickbait).

Most of the time.

Every once and awhile, however, a seemingly hyperbolic appeal to read is bound cross your online reading queue not for the sake of clickbait, but rather, due to the fact it’s patently true.

(As you might have guessed) this particular writeup is one such instance.

There’s been a considerable youth movement within the world of indie music. Back in 2014, artists like Frankie Cosmos and Car Seat Headrest set the indie blogs ablaze with heart wrenching songs of such depth and breadth, it caused many a blogger to reconsider their takes on millennial bashing and deifying Liz Phair and PJ Harvey.

Then came Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy, Big Thief, Hand Habits, Margaret Glaspy, Ethan Grushka, etc., etc. All acts well under the age of 30, and each and everyone having their own merits. There is simply no shortage of talent in this age of songwriting, to the point of which I’m led to a hyperbole ascription of my own.

We are living in the greatest era of young songwriting in over a decade, not only for those listed above, but also for those who are just beginning. Artists like Madison Cunningham, who recently spent two early tour stops (of 34) at Ryman Auditorium opening for The Punch Brothers.

Despite just barely entering her twenties, Cunningham’s career to date has been on of the more enviable rises in recent memory. She’s long been a regular performer on NPR (hosted by The Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile)’s “Live From Here,” in addition to serving as Chris Thile’s duet partner. So Cunningham is no small fish when it comes to rubbing elbows with a band of The Punch Brothers’ ilk.

But that’s neither here nor there, what’s truly remarkable is Cunningham’s songbook. Her most recent single “Beauty Into Cliches” recalls a sort of brain meld between Margaret Glaspy and Joni Mitchell, on top of some truly impressive guitar work. Something that’s likely to be overlooked when it comes to Cunningham’s live sets is the sheer cognitive capability to balance seemingly atonal melodies and deft guitar dexterity, changing meter and cadence with ease. Sometimes, the audience notices, and others times, it doesn’t, but it’s impressive all the same. Then there’s the distinct profundity of her writing, debuting new tunes inspired by Sylvia Plath (whose name elicited many a “woo” in the Mother Church), and a sort of meta-awareness.

In the end, Cunningham’s distinct musicianship makes perfect sense as to her involvement on The Punch Brothers’ tour, and her songwriting lends credence to the aforementioned ascription of 2018’s youth songwriting movement. In the end, Cunningham’s name will likely rise within the echelons of the era, so I suppose we’ll just have to keep up with her to see how things turn out.