The Hippo


May 26, 2020








Anna Madsen. Courtesy photo.


When: Sunday, March 5, 7 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 2 Young Road, Londonderry
Tickets: $20 at

Third time charm
Anna Madsen readies Tupelo release show

By Michael Witthaus

 When Anna Madsen set out with a sheaf full of songs to find a record producer, Pittsfield’s Rocking Horse Studio looked good in part because it was reachable on back roads. Driving to Boston terrified the new Utah transplant; a farmhouse facility in rural New Hampshire provided the perfect opposite.

Madsen’s ensuing two-year creative journey would ultimately cross the Atlantic Ocean to find her singing on the BBC and working with members of progressive rock royalty such as Genesis, Fairport Convention and Dream Theatre. These artists were drawn to her register-scaling voice and lyrical talents. But Madsen’s strongest champion turned out to be Rocking Horse owner Brian Coombes.
After meeting by happenstance, the two would become a creative team, though Coombes was quick to clarify what that means in a recent sit-down at his studio. 
“I’m the junior writer,” he said, “here to make sure we’re fulfilling her vision.” 
The veteran producer brings a mad-scientist fervor to his role, tenaciously shaping Madsen’s work to perfection. 
Twice, the effort led to reshaping and refining earlier songs. Madsen’s latest CD, Whisper, will be released March 3 and celebrated with a Tupelo Music Hall release show two days later. It’s her most fully realized effort, with four brilliant new songs. Six of the record’s tracks, however, began either on Madsen’s debut EP Palm Reader or on the 2016 LP Efflorescence. 
“It’s our third bite of the apple,” Coombes said.
Some songs are reinvented from the ground up, like “Devil’s Garden,” which went from dreamy to danceable and pushed Madsen’s vocals to the forefront. Others are augmented; “Palm Reader” adds a new Madsen lead vocal and drums from Dave Mattacks, a legend who’s performed with Paul McCartney, Nick Drake and others. 
“It was the first song I ever recorded here,” Madsen said during a preview session at the studio. “I felt tentative, and as time went by I became more confident. I think that really comes across with the reworked version.”
Madsen’s songwriting skills have also grown, as the new material shows. “If You Run” has the lyrical economy of a great pop tune wrapped around a sinister tale of romantic duplicity. 
“I’ve got a story, but it’s not a fairy tale,” she sings, while warning a friend away from the wrong man. “Paint the Town Red” is a Europop romp, and “Dead Daisies” tells a witty spinster’s tale with a sketchy narrator, who complains, “love and I don’t agree.”
“Fingerprints” is a gorgeous and revealing song, and one of Whisper’s best. Madsen wrote it after she went through a divorce last fall. Usually, she doesn’t get personal as a songwriter, instead preferring themes and stories to confession. 
“I was angry, which is rare,” she said. “I don’t know what to do with those emotions. ... I never felt so much anger and hatred. I went from anger to sadness in like a day. I wrote the song and pretty much said all I needed to say.”
Madsen envisioned “Fingerprints” as a spare acoustic ballad until Coombes suggested a synthesizer progression he’d worked up. 
“My starting points were ‘Time After Time,’ Genesis’s ‘Man on the Corner,’ ‘One More Night’ by Phil Collins,” he said. 
Madsen agreed, though she remembered Cyndi Lauper’s song from the 1990s movie Strictly Ballroom, not the 1980s MTV hit.
The generation gap produced another funny moment. Coombes has a close bond with Anthony Phillips and Steve Hackett, and produced an album last year for Genesis roadie Dale Newman. He’s giddy at the thought of Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford hearing about Madsen when they meet up with Newman to play golf. Newman has booked him into Genesis’ storied Farm Studio later this spring when Madsen tours Europe. 
Coombes, in other words, is a fan, but when the two met Phillips and Hackett for lunch last December, Madsen didn’t get it. 
“I wasn’t starstruck,” she said. “I remember Phil Collins from Tarzan; I was 12 years old when that came out. It wasn’t until Ant Phillips mentioned he was uncle and godfather to Emma Watson that I freaked.”
Yes, that Emma Watson, of Hogwarts and Beauty & the Beast fame. Madsen was slightly tuned out when Phillips mentioned a niece and her audition for Harry Potter. 
“I said, ‘Who are we talking about?’ Then I wanted to scream with glee,” she said. “He got the reaction he was waiting for when he said that.”
The UK is providing a healthy fan base for Madsen. Whisper’s first single, “Black Dress,” made Spotify’s Top 100, and the song charted on British iTunes. A music video, with a Pretty Woman meets 50 Shades of Gray script written by Madsen, hit YouTube in mid-January. Follow-up British television appearances are set when she returns, part of a tour that includes France, Spain and Wales. 
With luck, Madsen may even land a spot on a Royal Armistice Day show happening this fall in London. 
“They really liked ‘Soldier Song’ from Anna’s first album,” Coombes said. “We’re hoping to find a special guest to sing it with her, one with a big enough name to put her on the bill.”
“That’s on my bucket list — to perform for the Queen,” Madsen said. 
Fortunately, success means if it does happen, she won’t have to drive in the thick of London traffic. A cab — or a limousine — should suffice. 

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