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Alela Diane

With a characteristic voice not unlike fellow freak-folksters JOANNA NEWSOM or LARKIN GRIMM, although not as squeaky or kooky, Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter ALELA DIANE (born Alela Diane Menig, April 20, 1983, Nevada City, California) has slowly but surely edged her way into the hearts and minds of music buffs from both sides of the Atlantic.
Not forgetting her stints with the Black Bear band in the early, ALELA (as she was then monikered) self-financed two half-hour CD-Rs, FOREST PARADE (2003) {*6} and THE PIRATE’S GOSPEL (2004) {*7}. The latter of these – which featured family members plus MARIEE SIOUX in tow – was duly re-packaged, re-issued and largely re-vamped for general release in 2006, roping in a wider audience for such hillbilly-folk dirges such as `Tired Feet’, `The Rifle’, `Pieces Of String’, `Oh! My Mama’ and `Clickity Clack’.
Picked through a newspaper ad by executive producers Eddie Bezalel and Hugo Nicolson (plus musician cohorts LEO ABRAHAMS, Joey Waronker, Gus Seyffert, Josh Klinghoffer and Woody Jackson) to front indie-folk covers act HEADLESS HEROES on their one-off project THE SILENCE OF LOVE (2008) {*7}, it clear that DIANE had more than one ribbon to her bow; renditions of songs were as follows:- `True Love Will Find You In The End’ (DANIEL JOHNSTON), `Just One Time’ (The MISUNDERSTOOD), `Here Before’ (VASHTI BUNYAN), `Just Like Honey’ (The JESUS & MARY CHAIN), `To You’ (I AM KLOOT), `Blues Run The Game’ (JACKSON C. FRANK), `Hey, Who Really Cares?’ (LINDA PERHACS), `Nobody’s Baby Now’ (NICK CAVE), `The North Wind Blew South’ (Philamore Lincoln) and The GENTLE SOUL’s `See My Love’.
Cutting back to basics on her solo sophomore proper, TO BE STILL (2009) {*6} took on old-timey country-folk at her level – twangy slides and geetars echoing her shiny vocal tones; the timeless `Age Old Blue’, `The Ocean’ and `Lady Divine’ three of the most effective or intimate songs here.
Augmented by a fuller West Coast/Laurel Canyon-like sound (via Nashville) and some hired help by way of guitarist/husband/co-songwriter, Tom Bevitori, ALELA DIANE & WILD DIVINE (2011) {*6} marked a change of direction for this Californian country girl. Setting the scene for the turn of the 70s, Alela transported her listeners to a rootsy era where poetic lyrics were just as important as the simplistic tunes behind them. Horizontal as the people and places she sings about, `Elijah’, `Suzanne’, `To Begin’ and the cool and breezy `Heartless Highway’ were her driving routes back to her mindful desert.
Back in familiar `Colorado Blue’ territory; the name of her opening song from 2013’s solo ABOUT FAREWELL {*8}, she traded gleeful greetings for gloomy goodbyes. A personal and cathartic set of songs to mark the breakdown of her 7-year marriage to Bevitori, DIANE was understandably solemn and serene on her most honest and endearing songs to date: the cream of the crop resonating with `Lost Land’, `The Way We Fall’, `Nothing I Can Do’ and the title track.
Rusted Blue Records were also behind new mother ALELA DIANA’s next outing, COLD MOON (2015) {*7}, her collaborative album with mellow-mood strummer and fellow Portland-based Ryan Francesconi; he’d worked with JOANNA NEWSOM. As sombre and stark as anything back in her salad days, it was the guitarist that convinced Alela to put lyrics to some of his meticulous pickings. When JONI MITCHELL authored “Blue”, or SANDY DENNY her “Sandy” set, so many moons ago, little did they know of how many artists would try at replicating that sunlit ambience appeal. And that’s not to say that the creative DIANE echoed a time best left untouched, it’s the melancholy muse that gives way to soothing songs such as `Quiet Corner’, `Migration’, `The Sun Today’ and the stirring title track.
Pregnant when she wrote initial songs for a 5th album; an album recorded after her first child’s birth and mixed while she was pregnant with her second daughter, there was no surprise when 2018’s CUSP {*8} concentrated on her newfound motherhood; not just her own, but that of other parents in her situation. One ode in particular, `Émigré’, empathised with the Syrian refugee mother who saw her toddler, Alan Kurdi, tragically washed up on a Turkish beach. `Song For Sandy’ was Alela’s tribute to the late, great SANDY DENNY, who was said to be a challenging mother to her daughter Georgia. There’s nothing comfortable on this set, but with songs such as `Never Easy’, `Albatross, and `Threshold’, Alela somehow managed to portray hope and a future in an uncertain world.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Dec2015-Feb2018

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