When I first saw Rett Madison play a solo acoustic set at Rockwood Music Hall in April of 2022, she was shocked and grateful to have a full house. She told us there were only four people at her previous New York gig. So, when I walked into her packed album release show at the Mercury Lounge this month, I was pleased to see people have finally started to catch on.
I got to hear the first hints of Madison’s sophomore album, One for Jackie, at that solo show in 2022, and hearing it come to fruition this month left me more excited for her future than ever before. Madison’s songwriting is cutting, their voice is unique in the current indie landscape, and their live show is as unpredictable and moving as their music.
Perhaps the best example of this style would be their performance of “Death Don’t Make a Bitch An Angel” (yes that’s the actual title) at the album release show. Having been raised a country yodeler, Madison has developed a bluesy wail few in indie rock can compete with. And, after sharing a story about how the song was actually written three weeks before their mother’s passing, she launched into an intense departure from the studio recording, belting the climactic “can we be saved from each other?” refrain that appears on the album as orchestra-backed falsetto.
The night was full of those one-two punches, bringing both lighthearted highs, and heavy, but healing lows. They did a gag before playing “Fortune Teller” where they asked audience members to come on stage and do a tarot reading, having banked on someone knowing how to read tarot, shouting “I know there’s gays here!” She was right, and everyone had a great laugh… but then stood in awe and felt the full force of the song’s chorus “That’s why I call up fortune tellers, just to tell me it all gets better. I was aching for an answer, that death is not forever.”
Even the grooviest of Madison’s music is still gut-wrenching. She joked at the show, “if you can relate to these songs, I’m sorry, I hope you’re ok.” But that’s the crux of it, even without some of the triumphant or upbeat songs from her first record like “Pin-Up Daddy” and “Emily,” there are still defiant, hopeful undertones throughout, and even occasional glimpses of queer joy.
In “One for Jackie, One for Crystal” Madison tells a cathartic story of imagined revenge against her loved ones’ abusers — “Am I even Appalachian if I don’t have a murder ballad?” she quipped at the show. In “Ballet” they describe the love they have found in the wake of their trauma, describing their current relationship as “the first time I’ve ever leaned in, I’ve ever been with someone good,” and in “Lipstick” they recall telling their mother “I haven’t been in the closet since I dropped out of college.”
One for Jackie digs even deeper into the themes of trauma, abuse, grief, and loss Madison touched on in their debut, with more modern production and a wider range of sonic influences. But through all the rage and despair, she stays firmly grounded in love.
As she sings in “Flea Market,” she wants to do right by her mother, by simply “trying [her] best to be happy.” In doing so, she encourages the rest of us to try our best too.
- Music video directed by their partner and regular collaborator Wes O’Connor.
- “One for Jackie, One for Crystal”
- “St. Luke’s”
- This may be the best track on the record, and I was pleasantly surprised when Madison revealed at the show it was the one track they co-produced, improvisationally adding a mix of ambient noises and household sounds to fill out the soundscape.
Below is original photography from the show.