Blasting twin barrels of Americana noire and southern-gothic songwriting, India
Ramey fires on all cylinders with her national debut, Snake Handler.
Pentecostal churches, broken households, crooked family trees, forgotten pockets of the Deep South, and domestic violence all fill the album’s 10 songs, whose autobiographical lyrics pull from Ramey’s experience as a young girl in rural Georgia. Intensely personal and sharply written, Snake Handler shines a light on the darkness of Ramey’s past, driving out any lingering demons — or snakes, if you will — along the way.
Inspired by the warm sonics of Jason Isbell’s Southeastern and the big-voiced bombast of Neko Case’s Furnace Room Lullabies, Snake Handler was recorded in six days with producer Mark Petaccia — Southeastern‘s sound engineer, coincidentally — and members of Ramey’s road band. Ringing guitars, violin, atmospheric organ, and percussive train beats all swirl together, leaving room for Ramey’s voice — an instrument punctuated by the light drawl of her hometown and the quick tremolo of her vibrato — to swoon, swagger, and sparkle. It’s a voice she began developing as a child in Rome, Georgia, singing made-up songs into her electric hair curler while her parents fought just outside her bedroom door. The family home was a violent one, the product of an addicted father who flew into an abusive rage whenever his vices took control. Despite being the youngest of three children, Ramey grew up quickly, robbed of a typical childhood by her unpredictable home life. She recollects those early years in “The Baby,” skewers her no-good dad in “Devil’s Blood,” tells her mother’s story in “Rome to Paris,” and paints a less-than-inviting picture of her hometown in “Devil’s Den.”
Alexa Rose has the rare ability to find strikingly original melodies that nevertheless sound like they must have existed for a long time, stored away maybe in the ether of creativity, self-evident and awaiting discovery. Moving deftly between complex dexterity and heart-tugging familiarity, Rose achieves a sound that pushes gently alongside the bright vocal experimentalism of Joni Mitchell and Joanna Newsom while maintaining the brassy attitude and simple refrains that run straight through American roots music from mountain ballads to rock n roll.
Rose spent her formative years curating original music in the Blue Ridge, releasing two albums in her early twenties. You can often catch her sporting her dusty Frye boots in some southern lagoon, or on the regional radio stations that spin her latest full-length release, “Low and Lonesome.” Written on a hand me down guitar from her mother, the title track is a toast to Rose’s heritage, and its anthem-like chorus haunts the listener with a somberness evocative of Gillian Welch.
Amidst the sea of earnestly soft-sung songs on the Americana circuit, Rose’s voice stands out with depth and complexity, capable of gymnastic yodels and deep resonance. Rose’s sound evokes the likes of Hurray for the Riff Raff and Margo Price, but she cultivates her own hard-working perspective without imitation or posturing. What separates her from the crowd is a tangible, relatable sense of hunger and realism about the sacrifices of the road, the elusiveness of fulfillment, and the bittersweetness of dreams.