Bonfire Madigan – Saddle the Bridge

Bonfire Madigan
Saddle the Bridge

There’s something to be said for originality. After listening to countless guitar-drum-bass-guy singer combos, all doing variations on the same thing, Bonfire Madigan was a breath of fresh air. I could imagine walking into a coffee house or a small theater and seeing Madigan Shive in front of all these people, playing her cello like her life depended on it. Cello? Hell yeah, it’s the instrument of the 00’s, folks!
Bonfire Madigan is Madigan on cello and vocals along with a drummer and various contrabass, bells and whistles. The closest comparison I keep coming back to is Ani Difranco, not in the instrumentation but in the power and passion of the singing and playing. You can’t help but feel Madigan is killing the cello, playing it like it’s never been played in those orchestras your parents listen to, and all the while she’s singing her lungs out both beautifully and powerfully.
“Mad Skywriting” kicks things off deliberate and passionate. The vocals and drums seem to be the prominent instruments, the cello played more along with the music rather than taking center stage as on later songs. But you get a dose of Madigan’s passionate vocals. “Where the Sky Below Meets the Sea Above” is truly unique, sounding at times like the sly soundtrack to Fantasia or something and at times like the climax to a theater musical. The cello is the main instrument on “Running,” a somber, beautiful, dark and haunting song. And then “To Find the Women in the Ocean” is bouncy and almost jazzy. “Scraps” is the most mellow of these tracks, starting off as nothing more than barely plucked cello and vocals and picking up a bit, making it more folky but just as pretty. Madigan is telling a story on “The Debut & Debauchery of Anna Magdalena,” and “Rachel’s Song,” in two parts, is some odd noises and then a haunting instrumental. Then “Onion Thin Cello Skin” gets really popping, really picking things up. “Come Ask Her” is a much slower, very subtle song, quiet and deep. The album finishes with “Downtrodden Up,” a slower track that is probably one of the most biting and powerful, especially in the vocal delivery.
Strings and passionate vocals, that is enough to make for an amazing release. This is orchestrated music, planned out precisely but still possessing a raw power. Can this classically trained cellist make her way into popular music? Of course, because we’re ready for her, and she’s willing to test the boundaries.