Her feet dangling from her daddy's overalls, Cindy Woolf was introduced to music by George Woolf and an old C.F. Martin guitar from the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Long before she discovered a penchant for love songs, train songs and travel songs, her earliest memories were of her daddy hauling her around in his overalls while he picked that Martin.Woolf started piano at 4, learned hymns from Granny on her front porch swing, then crossed genres again with her punk/pop band, 3 Apples High, in high school.
"I just jumped around and sang," she said. A tape was borne, but so was an idea: "I fell in love with performing on stage."
From punk Pixies covers to canned and uncanny vocals, Woolf, based in Springfield, Mo., has since asserted herself as one of the most creative and thoughtful singer/songwriters working today. Difficult to define, her music has been called Americana, country, folk, pop and, her favorite, "hillbilly love-pop."
"Cindy Woolf doesn't sound like anyone else, a high compliment in a business full of clones and offshoots," said Dirty Linen magazine.
"Here comes Cindy Woolf, all sugar and molasses, putting her shapely Arkansas accent to work behind songs that Gillian Welch would gladly get stuck in a coal mine for," said Richard Gintowt of The Pitch. "It's humble folk music, but, as in the work of Laura Veirs or Josh Ritter, it earns its bread through the insights and clever turns in the lyrics."
Woolf graduated from open mic night in college to a specially tailored mic of her own to distribute her voice and her two albums: 2005's "Simple and Few" and 2008's "Before Daylight."
Ranging from cute to majestic, Woolf's voice was described by Dean Ramos of the Illinois Entertainer: "Besides her obvious talent for songwriting, it's her voice that really stands out, often sounding like the musical equivalent of a familiar touch long missed or the voice on the other end of the line that you've been waiting to hear from all night."
Mostly acoustic on "Simple and Few," Woolf, with a little help from her friends, plugged in while promoting her debut album on tour and discovered a new sound. Still armed to the teeth with a big voice and an understated guitar, her second album turned "Simple and Few's" dreamy and ethereal sound into "Before Daylight's" diverse and electric.
The record opens with her new sound on "Blurry." Funny, playful, backed by a banjo and her guitar, Woolf speak-sings an anthem about a constantly buzzing ex-boyfriend on an altogether-too-regular Sunday afternoon.
"Gumdrops in your Candyland/castles in your box of sand/building blocks you stack so high/build yourself a stable life." The chorus rings, "You're always in a hurry. Won't you wait for me."
The second song, "Come Home," defines Woolf's work. It starts with her pulsating guitar then slowly drips into her lyrics: "Honeybees, stop coming 'round/because there ain't nothing sweet since you left town/and those mockingbirds are making fun of me/'cause I'll have no happy song to sing 'til you come home to me." Her voice - lonely, longing - booms into the bridge, "Come home to me."
To hear Woolf sing a love song leaves little faith in love: How could anyone break this songbird's heart? But not everything is heartbreaking in Woolf's music; her strummy creations such as "Sidewalk Stars," "Portland East to Portland West" and "Drive All Night," the title track to her latest record, proves she is more than just a one-trick Woolf.
To borrow lyrics from Welch, one of Woolf's principal influences: "I can get a tip jar/gas up the car/try to make a little change down at the bar ... I'm going to do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay."
Backed by an English literature degree from Missouri State University, Woolf began writing songs in college then plying her trade at open mic nights.
"I started getting gigs of my own and realized that I want to do this forever, come what may," she said.
Even if it doesn't pay.