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Village Vibes

Emma Woodruff (right) and Kyleen Downes are a new acoustic duo. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

BLOG: The soul of Emma Woodruff

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The soulful, cathartic vocals of local singer-songwriter Emma Woodruff hit like a wall of emotion. In fact, you don’t have to be close to be in earshot of her potent voice; she sings not just from her heart but her entire body. In her lead vocals with local band The Undercovered, her solo work, and new collaborations under the name “Emma Woodruff ‘n’ Everybody,” Woodruff is a force of folk with a growing local following.

Woodruff packed them in at the Yellow Springs library on Thursday for an intimate unplugged show with guitarist Kyleen Downes, treating the audience to a bevy of original tunes, sometimes playful, sometimes intense, and always authentic and powerful. Not suprisingly, writing and performing music is therapuetic for the somewhat shy 26-year-old.

“If I can write about things I can better handle pain,” Woodruff said in a interview this week. “Once I overcome my nervousness its becomes my home up there [on stage] — I feel comfortable there.”

Playing folk rock with a hint of blues, Woodruff is comparable to ’60s rocker Janis Joplin for her freewheeling stage presence; Joni Mitchell for her soaring soprano lines and touching songwriting, and Bonnie Raitt for her red hair.

Watch Woodruff and Downes perform at the YS Library, including songs “Longing for Something I Ain’t Got,” “Kieth’s Alley” and other snippets.

There’s something operatic about Woodruff’s style, which she said she learned as an Antioch College music major while training with voice instructor Beverly Logan. But Logan may have had an even greater impact on Woodruff’s confidence.

“Bev wanted for me to always sing from the bottom of my heart — she could tell when I felt self-conscious,” Woodruff said. “She would encourage me when I felt like I was on top of everything.”

Woodruff signature style germinated in the basement of Spalt Hall, where as an Antioch undergrad she would sing at the top of her lungs to vent, and for the space’s acoustics.

“I’d sing through whatever at the time was bothering me,” Woodruff said. “People must’ve thought I was crazy because I would run across campus with my acoustic guitar,” she joked.

As a youth in Vermont and the Adirondacks, Woodruff took in her father’s music — Buddy Holly, Dion and the Belmonts and a good dose of blues, rockabilly and bluegrass — and came to admire female vocalists like Linda Ronstadt and Carole King (she covers “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”)

While Woodruff sings about the eccenentricies and joys of Yellow Springs life in a sweet and silly way, she tackles childhood nostalgia, troubling emotions and lingering relationship pains with heart-wrenching honesty — witness the yearning of “Longing for Something for I Ain’t Got” and emotional release of “Let it Leave,” original tracks for stream or download below.

Longing for Something I Ain’t Got (free download)
[soundcloud id=’22987559′]

Let It Leave (free download)
[soundcloud id=’22988028′]

The tracks were recorded recently with Downes, 27, a classically-trained guitarist and fellow Undercovered bandmate who also brings a love for classic rockers Led Zeppelin and Creedence Clearwater Revival plus the acoustic styling the likes of Crosby, Stills and Nash and Travis. With Downes and keyboardist Stephanie Thornton, Woodruff said she hopes to create an “all chick band.”

Downes and Woodruff hit the road two weeks on an open mic tour, playing gigs at the famous Slippery Noodle blues bar in Indianapolis, cafes in Memphis, Nashville and Louisville and at Cincinnati’s Southgate House. The tour seems like the beginning of something big.

“It’s been a fun journey so far,” said Woodruff, also a Sunrise Cafe server. “Things are beginning to fall into place.”

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