Alexa Rose has a talent for writing songs that subtly force their way into your heart. Every since I first learned of her name – after noticing she was opening for Hiss Golden Messenger in the States – and listened to Headwaters, I keep coming back to those songs. Last year, when she toured Europe supporting Watchhouse, she joined us at TakeRoot and recorded a session featuring her own Wild Peppermint and covers of Buck Meek’s Candle and John Prine’s Unwed Fathers.
The American singer, born in the Alleghany Highlands of western Virginia, likely inherited her musical gift from her great-grandfather Alvy who played with Lester Flatt. “There are so many musicians where I’m from, people who just play on their porch or in some local bar — and they’re amazing. They don’t do it commercially, that’s not the essence of what they do. There’s a deep connection between their sense of place and the music they make. That’s what really inspires me about the musical culture in the South and the mountains, especially.”
“I loved Buck Meek’s Candle before I learned the words.”
Asked why she picked Buck Meek (Big Thief)’s song Candle to cover, Alexa Rose replies: “There are a few things about this song that make me feel drawn to it in a strangely personal way. We’re all familiar with the phenomenon of hearing a song and feeling like it just knows you somehow. To be honest, I loved this song before I learned the words. Something about the melody makes me think of an old mountain ballad. It reminds me of the neutrality of good melodies – how they can really be free of genre. Eerily enough, I used to live near a Highway 9, and a couple years ago, I was being followed, and I called someone from my past and had a conversation much like the one that takes place in the song. It’s just a very strange coincidence.”
“Outside of my experience, I think every word in the song is placed perfectly, and all the words feel really good to sing. I love the imagery – innocence is a light beam, telephone seashell. It’s a little vague, a little elusive, with just enough detail for my mind to put together a story I wish I knew more about.”
“The gravity of it sneaks up on you.”
We filmed this session in Groningen in November 2022, just after Roe V. Wade had been overturned in the US, meaning that women would no longer have a constitutional right to abortion. “So immediately I thought of this song, with its stark imagery of a young woman with no support system, riding a Greyhound bus away from her home, somewhere in Appalachia. In the song, we know she has a family, but it seems like she’s being sent away, or running away, to give birth alone. I grew up in the southern Appalachian mountains so I can picture the scene well. Even though the song came out in the 80’s, it suddenly felt chillingly relevant.”
“What I love so much about John Prine is that he doesn’t necessarily tell you how to feel about any of this – the song is just a vignette of a very realistic situation, and the gravity of it sneaks up on you. Another hallmark of his genius is juxtaposing a heart wrenching story like this one with a cheerful melody that definitely gets stuck in your head. I think it’s the most effective way to approach divisive topics in songs – to be able to hear a story about a real life person, and to see their humanity, helps us approach things with more kindness.”
Filmed by David Lawson Froggatt & Matthijs van der Ven.
Edited by Matthijs van der Ven.
Audio recorded & mixed by Matthijs van der Ven.
Take Root Festival
Groningen, The Netherlands
David Lawson Froggatt
Thank you for watching and enjoying this session. You’ll probably like some other sessions from The Influences’ archive too, like these earlier ones by Buck Meek and Hiss Golden Messenger.
American songwriter Buck Meek has very quickly become one of my favourite musicians – both his solo and Big Thief records are on the top of the rotation over here. Last year he came straight from the airport to Utrecht and recorded his song Fool Me, plus covers of Duff Thompson and Townes van Zandt.
One of my more recent musical addictions, has been the music of Hiss Golden Messenger. Having released a lot of albums since 2008, it wasn’t until February this year that I witnessed him perform live. Before his show with Alasdair Roberts at the Roode Bioscoop in Amsterdam, MC Taylor played this session, including covers of…