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Some people make music to entertain and some people make music to affect change. Others just make music to inspire and this is where Madison Malone lives. Liminal is her first full-length recording, produced at Paradyme Productions by Natalie Fores. It follows an earlier, Beth Kille produced EP and three of the EP’s songs are reprised here. Fores keeps things bare, focusing on the words and the sentiments expressed therein. Occasional bass and percussion are the only adornments to Malone’s piano and acoustic guitar. Fores contributes violin to “Valley of the Lost,” a beautiful track and one that shows that the right accompaniment can add depth without drawing power away from the vocal performance.
Malone’s compositions are uncomplicated musically. The lyrics and the interpretation are where she mines gold. Malone is a sensitive soul and her singing is delicate and fluid. The passages where her vocals are multitracked are extremely effective and there are deep emotions on display throughout the album’s eight songs. Comparisons could be made to Fiona Apple and Avril Lavigne but also to Laura Marling, especially when Malone composes on guitar as on “Free You Up,” a solo performance that demonstrates that Liminal is a vocal record above all. “World Wounds” is another example of this and Fores cranks the reverb on the vocals here to great effect, enhancing the dream-like quality of the composition, one of the more satisfying on Liminal.
The subject matter revolves around relationships and personal struggles but Malone’s approach is cerebral, digging down to find nuggets of self-discovery, insight and defining moments of growth that will impart meaning amongst her listeners. A common theme, and word, in the lyrics, is “path.” There is a linearity and a sense of fatefulness in these songs. That’s not to say Malone over-analyzes but there is a definite struggle between where her soul wants to lead her and where her heart wants to go. Inside is a deeper search for meaning and a yearning for truth. “Why has it started this way / It’s my tangle, my mess, my disarray / I always have horrible timing in love / But you’re brewing and bubbling in me / You’re making me see / Do I take the person or the path?” she sings on “Two Suns & a Moon,” a sparse piano and bass underscoring another strong vocal performance. “Not Enough” is another standout. Here the dynamics elevate what is an elemental construction to an emotional tour-de-force. “Sitting around / Wondering where to go / Looking out, do I follow? / Follow the path that was set before me? / Do I abandon all that came before? / Do I go?” The chorus here is a catchy one and the fatalistic tendencies are on full display. The yearning “How Do We Know” is another emotionally bare excursion into philosophical rumination expressed through an earnest vocal performance that exudes power without sacrificing its delicacy.
It will be interesting to watch Madison Malone as she progresses down her own musical path. If ambition where the sole qualifier, she would already be quite successful. Her performance schedule is packed and she participates in the Chick Singer program. There is substance here but also a churchy quality even though there are no overt religious expressions. It would certainly be enticing to inject some groove into the music and some danger. How far she goes may depend on how willing she is to expand the palette of the instrumentation in her music. She certainly has the vocal and lyrical ability to impress…and inspire.