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Photo By Laura Roberts
Jenny Madison

JENNY MADISON: SONG SHARER

By Tim Roberts

Former Louisville singer-songwriter Stephen Moon wrote a song called "Atlas," in which he had figures from Greek mythology, retired or fired or just nudged out of their old jobs of butting into the lives of mortals, now performing menial, unimpressive tasks: Zeus, King of all Gods, hurler of lightning bolts, seducer of young women, now changes the bulbs in the lights at the football stadium. Hermes, the fleet-footed traveler between all worlds, now delivers packages for UPS. So maybe in that same realm, the Roman god Janus wrangled the job of Secret King of Nashville, Tennessee.

Janus had two faces. In some depictions, one set of eyes is cast heavenward, the other cast to the ground. In others he just looks in opposite directions, sometimes one face is old and the other is young. Janus ruled all roads, guarded all gates, always reminding you that there's a way in and a way out, a pathway there and another back again, and only he had the keys to let you in or through (he could also be considered the patron deity of all nightclub bouncers, the guy standing behind the velvet rope, a headset microphone alongside one jaw, the guest list on an iPad, both sets of eyes scanning the crowd and freaking out all the young women who aren't already bold with vodka or pills and determined to get inside).

Jenny Madison

Photo By Laura Roberts

Jenny Madison Jenny Madison

Jenny Madison

Photo By Laura Roberts

Jenny Madison Jenny Madison

Jenny Madison

Photo By Laura Roberts

Jenny Madison Jenny Madison

Now that he's been retired from his duties in Rome for nearly two millennia, Janus is most likely the one who guards the corridor that bisects Nashville from Music Row around Demonbreun Street and Division Avenue, through downtown Nashville and the Ryman Auditorium on a northeastern path to the Grand Ole Opry on Briley Parkway on the outskirts of the city (and is it a coincidence that Janus's temple in Rome ran east to west?). Many hotshot young performers or songwriters or even engineers migrate to Nashville, hoping get the one gig that will put them on the same bill as Trace, Kenny, Kellie, Carrie, or even Hank, Jr., or pen the right lyrics that will snag Brad or Dierks their next million-selling single, ultimately to be standing in front of the world-famous reddish-orange barn set on a Tuesday, Friday, or Saturday night, serenading the globe via WSM radio.

Janus always seems to have audition slots available. And all he has to do is set one of his kindly pairs of eyes on you and unlock that one gate. . . .

"It's so business, business, business down here," said Jenny Madison, singer-songwriter, Nashville resident, Louisville expatriate. "Lots of car salesmen types. Not to say there aren't good people here trying to make something happen with their art. I know them, people who have talent, and I can't believe the world isn't hearing them right now. I have good friends and have to shake my head when I go to their shows. They should be in an arena, on tour, or at the Ryman."

Madison never implies that she should be one of those on the bill at the Opry house or on tour with some major acts (but she probably would not dismiss an invitation). Still, that does not mean she doesn't have aspirations, or that she would rather stand aside and be like one of the hundreds of thousands who migrated to the city only to have desires dissolve like a paper bag getting the business end of a fire hose.

"You have to make a decision," Madison said. "Is it going to be artistry or industry? If you can blend the two and accomplish something in your career, that's great. That's where I'm trying to have a balance. I'm not business-minded. I'm all about writing the songs and singing."

Born and raised in Louisville, a graduate of Southern High School, Jenny Madison migrated with her young son to Nashville in late 1998, the year when Louisville was named one of the Music Meccas of the World by Playboy in its annual music issue, the year when a lot of people were deluded to think the next Days of the New would be signed then and there by a major label at the next live show

"It was just a desire to pursue music and see where I could go with it," Madison said about the move. "Not long after moving to Nashville I started writing for Acuff-Rose. That was an educational experience."

Landing a songwriting gig at Acuff-Rose shortly after moving to Nashville is the songwriting equivalent of moving to New York, showing up at Yankee Stadium looking for a job, and being picked to pitch next day for the first game of a series against the Red Sox. Formed by Roy Acuff and Fred Rose, it is the music publishing company that once held the songwriting catalogs of Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, Pee Wee King, Marty Robbins, Don Gibson, and others. Now owned by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, it was the place that seemed perfect for a young songwriter. You can never set the bar too high on your first attempt, can you? Either that, or Janus was immediately impressed.

The job at Acuff-Rose provided an ancillary benefit: it connected her with her first producer and engineer for her first attempt at recording at batch of songs that were personal and, as she stated, are still well-received when she plays them live.

"Having gone through the experience of releasing a project and getting feedback from that," Madison said, "once you get a response it gives you a little more confidence, I think, if you take things to another level. More people request those songs when I play them live. They're more to the core of who I am, from a more personal spot in my heart."

A good producer can sense that quality in a singer-songwriter, which is what her first producer did.

"It was wonderful," she said. "His name was Marcus. He was working at Acuff-Rose when I was there. We wanted to record a demo. He was the engineer. His office was not far away from the writer's room. He was more of a rock guy, which was really unique for me. You can hear all that on both records."

The rock style may have not been the best vehicle for Madison's songs, which are carried by a voice that can ring clear or can vanish into pillowy whispers. "I guess after the fact maybe my voice was lost in the tracks," she said. "That's from feedback I've received. It's not necessarily how I feel about it."

Called Conversations With Myself, the release is a sublime debut: solid songs sung by a young woman with a lovely voice. In a way, she straddles the two worlds of Nashville, with one side in the simplicity of old-school production values and good songwriting (ready for radio, it seems, with a 45 fresh off the stamping machine and into its shuck, on its way to the stacks at radio stations nationwide), the other in heartfelt lyrics that have inherited just a touch of the dramatic loneliness and heartbreak of a Patsy Cline session in Owen Bradley's Quonset Hut studio.

However, Madison is emphatic about the mix of music styles on her next release, scheduled for mid-August. It's called What the Heart Knows.

"I have a different feeling about this project than I did on the first one," she said. "I think that it's different because it's uncensored. The songs from the first one were from a different part of my life. I was probably a little more repressed than I am now. I think a lot of people go through that. The older you get, the more freedom you have to express yourself. I feel this album is extremely honest in a vulnerable kind of way. It exposes parts of me that I don't think I did on the first one."

It was recorded at the home studio of Nancy Gardner outside Nashville in Franklin, Tennessee. Gardner was drummer for the country all-female band Wild Rose in the late 1980s and early 1990s, whose breakout hit "Breakin' New Ground" peaked at number 15 on the Billboard country chart. She is the wife of Randy Gardner, an sound engineer who has worked with Steve Wariner.

Madison had originally thought that the album would be nothing but acoustic guitar and vocal. But an acquaintance, singer-songwriter Radney Foster, advised her to get with a friend who has a studio and make something a little more stripped down.

"I had a batch of songs I'd wanted to record," Madison said. "So I got with Nancy and her husband. With Nancy the experience has been beautiful. It has given me confidence that I didn't have in the studio before. She never wanted to take anything away from what I was doing. She's added wonderful background vocals, percussion, and sometimes when I wasn't there. I'd come back and she'd be nervous, practically biting her nails about what she had added. She'd been so sensitive about not to take away from the tracks that I had put down, which were just acoustic and vocals. Pretty much all the songs started with just an acoustic vocal and a feeling. And we worked around that."

Coming up with the recording's title was also one of those moments of psychological kismet: an inevitable course that two or more people follow the same creative path.

"For me, naming a record for me is like writing a song. I'm not just going to churn something out. It has to mean something, and every one of the songs on this project mean something to me. A bridge on one of the songs was coming to mind every time I would think about the title. ‘Nothing feeds the soul, like what the heart already knows.' That's what I experienced with Nancy and the other musicians in the project. And Nancy was thinking the same title as I was singing it."

Madison's son, now 16, gets a tribute in the song "Brown Eyes." "He plays music but he's also a filmmaker," Madison said. "He uses music a lot. It's another character. I haven't recorded any music for his films, but I'm not as cool to him as used to be," she added with a laugh.

The official release for What the Heart Knows is will take place during one of the scheduled performances of Kentucky Homefront here in Louisville on August 14th. Even though she's already released one recording, Madison is considering this one her Debutante Ball coming out party. "I feel like I'm coming out on my own," she said.

From what Madison states, writing and recording the songs for What the Heart Knows has been a spiritual experience. And she hopes sharing the songs will give others the same thing.

"Once I finish a song and I've had an experience writing it, and I know that at some point I'm going to get to sing it, and because I had the experience I did, it has to mean something to someone else. There are songs where you have this sense that this is going to matter to somebody else. That's the best part for me."

So after she's shared her songs from What the Heart Knows, and perhaps even managed to impress Janus the Two-Faced King of Nashville, will that mean Jenny Madison is coming back home?

"I wouldn't say it's not out of the question. I'm definitely drawn to be there more often than I ever have been. I think I had to go away for awhile. But somehow my focus and my heart is pointed toward Louisville a little more. I am drawn to home, and I'm very drawn to Kentucky. I played my first chord and wrote my first song in Louisville. I am connected there. It will always be home."


The Kentucky Homefront show where Jenny Madison will perform is on Saturday, August 14 at the Clifton Center. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. show. Admission is $12.00.

Let Jenny share songs more with you at www.myspace.com/jennymadisonmusic.