Have you ever been so consumed by a song, an artist, an album that you listen to them non-stop? That sometimes the song you love most makes you cry and then sometimes it makes you think? That you wonder what the artist experienced and how they can speak to you so directly with their songs? This is exactly what I have been feeling since I started listening to Alexa Rose’s debut album, Medicine for Living. Truth be told, it was Alexa’s set at Americanafest 2019 that blew me away and left me wanting more of her music. Her set on Tuesday night at the True Music Room in the Cambria Hotel was quite possibly the best one I saw all week. It wasn’t just her lyrics, it was also her voice. When I found out she was releasing an album in October, I knew even without hearing it that it would be one of my favorite releases of this year.
Growing up in Clifton Forge, West Virginia, with its rich musical heritage, there is no shortage of talented musicians in the area. Although Alexa Rose is the only musician in her immediate family, she comes by her musical talent honestly. Her great-grandfather, as it turns out, played with Lester Flatt when they were both young men. As the story goes, when Lester moved to Nashville, he tried to get Alexa’s great-grandfather Alvy to join him. Content on his farm, with his wife, Alvy turned him down. Although she didn’t run off to Nashville, Alexa left West Virginia to attend college at Appalachian State, where she majored in music. The exposure to the not only the old time music, but also regional influences like Doc Watson, left its mark on Alexa and her music. A self-taught musician, Alexa began playing guitar in her teens, but never considered it as a career path until after graduation. Until that time, playing music was something deeply personal that Alexa considered as an endcap to her day, a practice that would end her day on a good note.
It was through her association with Tim Duffy who is head of the non-profit Music Maker Relief Foundation, that Rose was introduced to Bruce Watson, head of the label Big Legal Mess, where she was signed and would make her debut album. Describing the album as, “Appalachia meets Memphis” (Rose recorded the album there at Delta-Sonic Studio) and says the album is “all the lessons I’ve learned, of people and places that have shaped my worldview and my definitions of love and commitment.” Joining Rose on the album are veteran musicians to include guitarist Will Sexton, drummer George Sluppick and bassist Mark Edgar Stuart, with guests including organists Rick Steff (Lucero) and Al Gamble (St. Paul & The Broken Bones). You might think listening to the album that Rose was using her backing band for the album, but this group of musicians had never played together before.
Listening to the ten track album for the first time, I had a hard time choosing a song that was my favorite. From the accordion laced, “Tried and True” and its decidedly deep south vibe to the dreamy and hopeful “Red Balloon”, these are songs with thoughtful lyrics, sung with the distinctive and rich voice of Rose. Over time, “Medicine for Living” was the standout song to me, but there isn’t a weak song to be found on this album. So many of these songs have lyrics that feel like they were written in different periods of my life, it seems songs about love, or losing it, are songs many of us out there can identify with. My favorite song off the album, “Medicine for Living” has a way of making me cry almost anytime I listen to it. With opening lyrics like:
“ Can I ask you a question, I know you don’t want to hear, But I’m the heirloom at the mercy of the auctioneer. There’s a crack in the finish, but it’s easy to miss. Are you really going to love me, when it ain’t like this?
Asking someone if they’re going to love you even when they know you are flawed and damaged? It’s heavy, but it’s something I and I’m sure others have experienced as well. Alexa’s ability to put to words what so many have dealt with in their lives and in love, is refreshing and incredibly relatable. It’s not just this song that feels like this, it’s the entire album.
I truly feel like this is one of the best debut albums of 2019. Alexa Rose and her brand of Appalachian influenced roots music, with her beautiful, distinctive voice and well-penned lyrics are a refreshing addition to the many albums that are out this year. https://www.alexarosemusic.com/contact