Heart and soul

With a new record in tow, a Los Angeles-based couple bring their inspired folk sound to Jerusalem.

December 26, 2011 21:21
3 minute read.
Roman and Alaina Wood.

Roman and Alaina Wood 311. (photo credit: Courtesy of Alaina Wood)

Bluesy folk duo Roman and Alaina Wood released their second album Last Forest in the City last month, unintentionally, from a bomb shelter in Israel. The married, adventurous couple of three years was backpacking through the country for seven weeks and during their first week was staying in a friend’s spare room/shelter. They were eager to put their hard work online.

“It’s a family values kind of thing,” explains 25-year-old singer/songwriter Alaina, of the album, which they recorded in Los Angeles, California, their most recent home, with friend and producer Drew Allsberock.

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With Roman, 31, on guitar, harmonica and vocals with his wife, Last Forest in the City offers subtle harmonies and poetic lyrics that draw on their personal experiences of growing up in broken homes, the struggles to keep a marriage and family together, and looking to their more recent past, the joys of falling in love.

“Two people become one and everything changes,” he says.

Most of all, Roman, a native of Seattle, Washington, says, listeners from troubled backgrounds should feel they’re not alone in their painful situation. “Let it be a stepping stone,” Alaina says, rather than an insurmountable barrier to the future.

The second album’s moral and religious themes, and more mainstream tone, build on the more overtly religious feel on Sounds of Prayer (2009), they say, their first album, which features the words from Jewish prayers like “Modeh Ani,” ultra-catchy “Hashem Open My Lips,” and “Oseh Shalom,” and original lyrics on “Birth of the King.” If the first album showcased the Messianic Jewish couple inside the synagogue, Roman says Last Forest is them living outside.

“This is us in the marketplace,” he says.

“We live normal human being lives, we have normal human being struggles and at the same time we want to see the world [become] a better place.”

Religion inspires their music, and is a core value in their lives. In addition, many of their fans are Messianic Jews, but Roman and Alaina, who came to their faith together, don’t want to be pigeonholed.

“People will quickly put you into a box and associate you with evangelicals or something like that, and it’s not like that; it’s Judaism. People keep Shabbat, guys put on tefillin in the morning,” Roman says, adding that followers of Messianic Judaism maintain a range of Jewish practice. “It’s a very complicated movement yet at the same time it’s lots of sincere hearts.”

The couple met in a recording studio in Nashville, Tennessee, while Alaina was studying music at Belmont University, and Roman was being mentored at a recording studio in town. Alaina came in to record some tracks, and Roman’s mentor thought his pupil’s voice would sound great beside Alaina’s. They sang together almost every day, and have since traveled the US, and now Israel, with their heartfelt sound.

Roman and Alaina performed at Off the Wall and Mike’s Place in Jerusalem, and even “busted out” on Ben Yehuda Street.

They plan to promote the album through performances at upcoming folk festivals in the US.

Alaina, a laid-back blonde who exudes warmth, says she grew up singing in choir and dancing, and always dreamed of moving to Nashville, the country music capital of the world. Roman, curly-haired and with an easy smile, says he only started playing guitar around age 21, but says pretty much everyone in his family is a musician.

Until about six years ago, he played guitar and sang in the messianic, retro acoustic duo Meha Shamayim with Leonardo Bella. Before folk, Roman had a passion for hip hop, and grew up involved in Seattle’s vibrant hip hop scene.

“It’s eventually gonna come out in some way,” he says, laughing, of his hop hop past mixing with his folky guitar.

While in Israel, the couple has traveled and hiked all around the country, and as self-proclaimed foodies, say they have fallen in love with the Mahane Yehuda shuk and the top-notch coffee (high praise from a Seattle native, a city famous for its coffee). On the spiritual side, Roman and Alaina have found solace and spirituality in the Shlomo Carlebach- style synagogues they have visited.

“We’re leaving with a lot inspiration,” Alaina says.

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