Living is a disease. That’s the literal text of the titular song of Alexa Rose’s debut album, Medicine For Living. That is a dark and heavy theme to lead off with, for sure, but the true artistry comes from the underside of the song, where we find out the medicine she speaks of: love in all forms, whether music or romantic or familial. That’s the balm for the diseased soul: Simple Love. As Rose says, when something is heavy on you, “all we can do is be loving and reach for love and that in itself can be healing”. It’s a great way to start a discussion of Alexa Rose’s debut album because it’s a perfect frame for her sad songs that are laced with intimacy and warmth.
Alexa Rose is fairly new to the game, but the game spoken of here is Americana, something fashioned after all that is old and made of wood. The 25-year-old from Asheville, North Carolina, checks all the boxes to be sure: acoustic strums, soft organ, drum shuffles, and some fingerpicking. That is not to denigrate the songs or the genre, but the quality of these songs themselves go far beyond genre classification.
For example, a song like the closing track “Untitled No. 47” gives a person pause in its grace alone. With a guitar figure that seems to be suspended above us like some kind of elegant chandelier, and an organ seemingly weeping in the background, Rose tells the story of a person who will “be as good a woman as you are a good man”. It’s soft without being pandering and intimate without being cute. It could sit right alongside one of Jackson C. Frank’s best tracks or a Gillian Welch gem.
The album’s strengths well outweigh its weaknesses, and it’s mostly due to Rose’s vocal acrobatics. Just where you might begin to think a song is leaning too heavily into tropes of the genre, Rose goes up or down an octave or twists a word to make it fit unexpectedly, and the song becomes something stronger, something new. Furthermore, lyrics like “Can I borrow your heart?” or “Got a pretty good deal on a pre-owned heart” that would seem trite coming another performer are transformed coming from Rose. There’s an unexplainable beauty in the way she moves and slides her notes and tones around.
Yes, Alexa Rose plays right into the pocket of Americana music, where tradition is the rule, but the songs here are without a place and time. They would sound good in the winter as a fire crackles in the background, and they would sound just as great in the summer as the crickets chirp in the woods. Alexa Rose has created some timeless songs worth a few minutes of your time. They’re truly medicine for living, as all the best songs are wont to be.