Review: Madison Violet, “Eleven”

Madison Violet - Eleven

James Taylor has half-joking characterized himself as a “professional autobiographer.” To some extent, all who make art put forth something of themselves. But some artists especially wear their hearts on their sleeves and relate their own experiences through their art, with the hope that the listener or viewer will find something of themselves in the art to resonate with. Madison Violet’s candid approach fits this description well.

JUNO Award nominated folk duo Madison Violet (Lisa MacIsaac & Brenley MacEachern) released their eleventh studio album on July 1, 2022, a project fittingly titled “Eleven.” The record is the first fully self-produced album that they have made – they converted Brenley’s vintage Airstream (which gets a nod in the album cover art) into a recording studio.

The first of the standout tracks on the 10-song project is the lead-off track, “Utah.” The tune commences with simple, calming instrumentation that fills out as the verse moves along and builds into a flowing, atmospheric feel that evokes wide-open spaces, like those found in the song’s namesake American state. The vocals dance on the edge of a rasp, with the earthiness of Bonnie Raitt. The lines, “excuse me if what I need is a little more patience” and “if I stand this free, it’ll be a load off me” are delivered with resoluteness, and Lisa’s violin solo in the second half of the song ties it all together. Making it that much sweeter is the fact that the song also features lyrics written by MacEachern’s father.

The lead single from the album, “The Sycamore,” gives both artists the chance to shine, with contrasting but complementary styles that really coalesce in the chorus. Instrumentally, the song has an “Ongiara”-era Great Lake Swimmers feel, as the lyrics tell the story of empathy and support for a loved one dealing with a tough time.  Another highlight is the reverb-drenched lead guitar riff that leads off “Sweet Desperado” and sets a lonesome and longing feel, and the song’s surprisingly simple chorus – “I’m only ever halfway / Halfway” – feels like there will be a resolution to it, but there isn’t, and that effectively conveys the emotion of the song.

Madison Violet

“We Lost the Light,” a song that employs a David Gray-ish use of acoustic and electronic elements, even verging into a Coldplay-type crescendo, puts to words the tragic loss of Brenley’s 20-year-old niece. The simple but moving lyrics, “I can’t call you, and it pains me” and “this is all a bad dream” articulate loss in a way that anyone who has suffered loss can resonate with – and, on some level, that is all of us.

The album closes with a cover of the first song on Neil Young’s album “Harvest”: “Out on the Weekend.” The rendition features Madison Violet’s tight harmonies throughout and delivers an update to, but still also pays homage to, Young’s 1972 country ballad.  As a whole, “Eleven” is clearly the work of artists who are comfortable in their own skin. Their lyrics, arrangements, and even production shine with forthrightness. In the specific, the universal is conveyed.

Learn more here: https://www.madisonviolet.com/

Photo Credit: Jen Squires

Matt Wheeler is a Lancaster County, PA-based singer, songsmith, stage-banter conversationalist, husband, & special-needs father. And an avid vinyl record collector, a purveyor of random facts, & tour-er of Canada (southern Ontario is a favorite destination). Ever since being introduced to Great Lake Swimmers' music through Pandora in about 2009, he has had an appreciation for Canadian music.

Matt's songs & stories, including his classic literature-based project "Wonder of It All," can be found at www.mattwheeleronline.com.

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