It takes a brave artist to cover a song that’s so famously been sung by Johnny Cash, but then again, Jesse Lynn Madera is no ordinary singer and ‘Unchained’ is no ordinary song.
“I’ve been moved by the song ‘Unchained’ for a decade or more,” Madera explained to us. “I’ve fantasized about recording it. To finally get to lay these tracks down at Plyrz Studio with Dan Navarro producing and Jim Scott at the board was more than I ever dreamed. They chose the perfect musicians for the job - great players and very cool guys. It was an honor to be there with them. We cut this song in two days, and it was mixed at the end of the second day.”
Madera’s version of ‘Unchained’ feels like more than just a simple cover version; it’s almost as if she climbs inside the song and completely inhabits it. Originally written by Jude Johnstone, the title track to the 1997 Grammy Country Album of the Year may have been firmly associated with Johnny Cash all these years, but as soon as Jesse Lynn Madera begins to sing those opening lines, it feels like it was somehow always destined to be sung by her.
“I connected with this song probably because of my family’s history with depression and anxiety, and because I lived with a person who was pretty hard on me growing up,” Madera explained to us.
“I’ve read that the way we talk to kids becomes their inner monologue when they’re adults. So, I go in and out of a certain headspace and, maybe because I’m a writer, I can watch it happening in real-time. I can step out of how I’m feeling and see the ways I’m being destructive. Usually, it’s self-destruction, but I can also be hard to live with during those times - overly critical of myself and others. It’s fear based. I get swamped by feelings of not living up to my potential. Those feelings make me strive for the most on better days, and utterly defeat me on others.”
“This song is a prayer, and I feel every word of it. This character knows who she is and what could be. It’s really a hopeful and truthful song, and I wish I’d written it! Jude Johnstone wrote it. I haven’t met her, but I do believe her penning ‘Unchained’ was a gift and a heroic act.”
It even gets the seal of approval from the songwriter herself: ““Ever since Johnny Cash won the Grammy in 1997 for ‘Unchained,’ I have wished someone else would record it,” Jude Johnstone told us. “I am so pleased with this new version by Jesse Lynn Madera. Love the way she digs into the chorus. I am so glad to see this song have a revival."
The powerful video for Jesse Lynn Madera's 'Unchained' is premiering at Holler below.
Born in West Virginia, Jesse Lynn Madera’s childhood years were rooted in music. She lived near her grandparents, self-taught musicians whose 'stage' was either the back porch or the living room, and began playing her grandmother’s upright piano around the time she started walking. Due to a series of job transfers offered to her mother, her family embarked upon numerous cross-country moves over a seven-year period that began when Jesse was just four years old. In part, she credits these moves as helping her develop a rich interior world that led to songwriting at an early age.
“Music kept me company,” she remembers. “It became my passion and best friend.”
By the time she was 11 years old, her family moved to Houston where she would remain until she graduated from the famed High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Following graduation, she studied classical theatre for a year in a conservatory program led by renowned director Gerald Freedman at North Carolina School of the Arts before enrolling in New York University’s acclaimed Tisch School of the Arts to study acting.
Before graduating in 2004, she was accepted into an experimental theatre program in Amsterdam. After graduation, Jesse remained in New York and turned her full attention to music. Holding down a number of jobs so she could hone her craft, she was eventually booking venues like The Bitter End, Living Room, Rockwood Music Hall, Cutting Room, and Highline Ballroom.
She released her debut record, Fortunes to widespread critical acclaim and her live performances have earned her a devoted following in Los Angeles and New York City. ‘Unchained’ is taken from her forthcoming follow up album Belle Sent Me,
‘Unchained’ by Jesse Lynn Madera is released on February 24th.