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Friday, 30 August 2013 10:51

Album review: Cindy Woolf's 'May' is rich with musical discoveries

Album review: Cindy Woolf's 'May' is rich with musical discoveries
Written by Glen Herbert

Cindy Woolf

People who live in St. Louis are lucky for lots of reasons, not the least of which is KDHX. I know that sounds self-serving, but it's true. And here's one reason why: discovery.

There was a time when you could go into a record store and see displays of all kinds of records, perhaps listen to samples from some, but even if you couldn't listen to them, you could go in and discover records that you never would have come across otherwise. Perhaps they were on the same stack, or maybe they were faced out on the racks above the stacks. The covers were big enough -- I'm thinking LPs here -- that walking through a record store was like walking through a music catalog. Yes, industry played a greater role, but for the consumer, it was a pretty good time.

But there are fewer and fewer record stores today and we have to discover music in different ways. KDHX is a great place for that. With such a range of interests and a peripatetic gaze, by listening in you are in essence browsing the stacks, finding new artists that you didn't know existed.

One of those artists that avid listeners might recall is Cindy Woolf, who has made in-studio appearances at the station. She is an independent artist that vast swaths of the country may never hear and it's too bad. She is a new voice out there and she's worth a listen.

Her latest album "May," released this spring, is a confident, layered and heartfelt collection of songs about all those things we love to sing songs about: doubt, uncertainty and love. That sounds like I'm joking, but I'm really not. I think one of the reasons the blues is such a popular genre is because we like to know that we're not the only ones with complex lives and that joy, confusion and sadness never exist in isolation the way that they often do in Top 10 pop.

And that's how the album begins: with uncertainty. "Can't tell the joy from the hurt/Can't tell the freckles from the dirt," sings Woolf in "Like the Weather." She sings in a voice that risks sounding affected -- she sings "c'aint" for "can't" -- but you soon see that it works to serve the material. One of the things that she does so well is bring a depth and honesty to an approach that is born in country wisdom. As such, she's subtly updating the form.

The instrumentation is lovely, moving from acoustic to electric and drums most notably on "Said He Wouldn't Be Mine" yet all the songs come as a piece. That's because she's made this album in that old-fashioned way, programmed with the hope that the listener encounters the songs in the order it is presented. As such, Woolf takes us on a tour through some rich ideas, picking them up, turning them over, putting them down. She can be funny, as she is in "Heart This Lonely," singing that "a heart this lonely can only be cured by you ... or you ... or you ... I need you, honey and nobody else will do." The next track, a gorgeous and spare ballad called "Brambles," is absolutely serious. It's those kinds of changes between tracks, between feels, that makes "May" so compelling.

Stand-out tracks include "The Sun and the Shadow," which features a cello, a really brilliant touch, and "The Flowers in May." At the end of the day, Woolf is someone that, despite the crowded world of singer-songwriters, really does deserve discovery.

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