Written By: Warren J. McCrickard
In a world where “more” has become the standard – more money, more technology, more stuff – a renewed energy in “less” has arisen. The old phrase “Less is more” has a stronger meaning as people are looking for ways to pare back in economic uncertainty. Couple that with a nearly ten year war in process, maybe it isn’t so hard to believe that within the realm of music the reinvention of a classic form has arrived. Not since the 1960’s has Americana music been so prevalent in our music presentation. The genre and its artists have a unique ability to command the presence of a listener and take them metaphysically to the places mentioned in the songs; to have the listener experience what they have experienced.
While much of the music style implies the rule of “less”, do not confuse this with “simple.” The instrumentations are complex, stories woven deep within the fabric of the words. In the vein of an early Iron & Wine, Gillian Welch, and most recently Zooey Deschanel of She & Him, I introduce you to Alexa Woodward; an urban folk artist from New York City that is blazing up the independent and college radio charts with her sophomore album Speck.
With banjo in hand and melodious pipes, Alexa transcends the framework of her songs and takes the listener into a world where only an experience storyteller can travel. The album begins with a song entitled “Spoon” in which the listener can imagine two lovers lying next to each other with one having to depart from the moment that is so hard to hold and capture. The other, still lying, sings this song as a plea for the moment to last, for the one departing to stay.
The title track “Speck” seems to question mortality and the imprint one leaves behind once all truth and lies are exposed. She uses vivid imagery (“A speck of blood/for the birds and bees”) and Biblical references (“Swing low the chariots/I’m an Iscariot/Never so lonesome/As I was today/Give me a kiss”) to illustrate the raw emotion of honesty and self reflection.
While the album is exceptional from track one to nine, two tracks stood out to define what will become a fantastic legacy as an American singer/songwriter “Mary” and “Plants.” “Mary” reminisces upon a lady, named Mary, who has left this world. This song is her narrative, her wisdom, her eulogy. Alexa sings from the bottom of her gut – you can hear her sorrow and yet her joy (“when I am dirt and stars
and you are dirt and stars/the old soul children learn/to recognize each others pyres”). The chorus lifts the memory of a little-known woman who made a significant impact “Mary was fire/and I am a fire/and you were a fire/I miss your flame.” By the songs end, you are nearly in tears craving to experience Mary.
“Plants” is a joyous ode to Alexa’s previous living situation – a Quaker community house with over twenty residents and its rooftop garden where you could stand and take in the majesty of Manhattan. The irony of a garden in one of the most densely populated cities is sung with ease and excitement. Alexa shares stories of her housemates and the joy of life, of plants, between concrete and steel. You can’t help but sing along with the chorus – a catchy “oo la la la/oo la la la/hey!!!!!” It will stay in your head for days!
Alexa is a sophisticated songwriter who doesn’t sell her audience short. She gives listeners the opportunity to think while listening; to identify with her pain, loss, joy, suffering, and strength. You feel intimately aware of Alexa when the album is complete. A folk singer cannot ask for any more – an audience that is now one kindred spirit with the artist.
She is accompanied by a wonderful Austin, Texas artist ‘Linky’ Dickson, a versatile musician Guy Forsyth, and others. Speck is Americana at its best. It invokes the spirit of its predecessors while setting itself apart as something fresh and needed in such uncertain and weary times. It is not a simple album. It is one of deep complexity and hopefulness. Alexa is fire. I am a fire. You are a fire. We’ll follow her flame!