I have been intrigued of late with Alexa Woodward’s new album Speck, so I ventured out to see her perform at her recent Los Angeles appearance at the intimate Genghis Cohen – and it was a very rewarding experience. The banjo-picking Woodward’s songs are like mountain music with an MFA. References to Tolstoy and Harper Lee slip into her dark-hued, old-timey tunes; however, she’s doesn’t sound liked an affected musical anthropologist appropriating native backwoods sounds. Although based out of New York City, Woodward grew up in Virginia and South Carolina so there is an easy naturalness to her rural porch music. An easy reference would be the stripped down Americana styling of Gillian Welch. Hearing her live, I came to appreciate the way Woodward’s honeyed singing voice dips and soars. Her phrasing and harmonizing (she was frequently accompanied on vocals by her washboard-playing sidekick Linky Dickson) also brought to mind to Roches, as did her endearing stage presence. She shared some funny tales of touring misadventures, like trying to sleep in a WalMart parking lot that was blaring Whitney Houston.
But what really grabbed me is how her singing and lyrics blend together to make for spare, haunting music. There’s an earthy ethereal quality to tunes like “Window” “Spoon” and “Speck.” After several songs that held murder ballad imagery like “her blood was melancholy” and “a speck of blood for the birds and the bees,” she lightened the tone with the “Plants” (she apparently likes one word titles). This rather upbeat tune, which celebrates her time living in a community house with some 20 other folks, offers that urban gardener rallying cry “plants growing in the city!” With its quiet folksy sound, Speck might be easy to overlook, but Alexa Woodward impresses both in concert and on disc, making her someone for Americana connoisseurs to keep an eye on.