Thursday, August 08, 2013

Alela Diane: Beyond Farewell... a review

I wrote a review of Alela Diane's latest album, About Farewell, for Common Folk Music. Don't miss hearing this beautiful album; it's set to be one of my top favourites this year.   


Alela Diane’s first album, The Pirate’s Gospel, captivated me from the beginning, with “Tired Feet”, right to the final notes of “Oh! Mama!”  Her gently strummed guitar and soothing voice were a welcome accompaniment to both busy mornings at home and long car journeys in the rain through the Welsh countryside. Her second offering, To Be Still, uniquely captured an essence of “home” for me.  Something about the imagery, the descriptions, the stories reminded me of my roots in a way that no music has for a long, long time. Maybe it was her high-cheekboned pioneer woman face peering from the album cover through blurred, shining lace.  I think that by the time her third release [Alela Diane & Wild Divine] arrived on the scene, I was so stuck on the first two that it made little impression on me.  I’m not brilliant at moving on quickly from instantly-loved favourites.  Sometimes I listen to particular albums for years before truly “discovering” them.  

But it’s this fourth recording from the Portland, Oregon-based singer that I’ve been waiting for.  About Farewell was definitely worth the wait, more than I ever could have imagined.  It played all morning as I was deep in a long candle-making session. As I worked, amidst the mild distraction of creating candles, I fell in love with About Farewell.

Diane’s voice has strengthened noticeably.  Her range has always been remarkable but on this album it’s obvious that she’s more than capable of everything she attempts.  Her wisely scant instrumentation allows her clear, beautiful voice to shine out and draw attention to her repetitive, honest lyrics.  It’s rare to find an album like this, with every single song possessing a powerful emotional punch that pulls you in right away.  She has returned to the delicate acoustic sound she does so well, with a newer, deeper maturity.  She pens all her own lyrics, which have evolved from the sweet story-telling of The Pirate’s Gospel into personal poetry that makes you feel as if she’s telling you all about herself.

“Colorado Blue” wistfully recalls a doomed relationship, gently introducing the album’s theme of lost love.  Next is “About Farewell”, in my opinion a true classic, with a chorus that I just can’t get out of my head:  “I heard somebody say that the brightest lights cast the biggest shadows, so honey, I’ve got to let you go…”   “The Way We Fall” follows hard on the title track’s heels, with Diane’s signature softly strummed guitar and the repetitive lyrical phrases that she does so well:  “I didn’t know it was the last time, we never know when it’s the last time, I didn’t know it was the last time…”  

We begin to understand the darker intricacy of the relationship she’s mourning after hearing “Nothing I Can Do”.  “Lost Land” is the most subtle song on the album, as she questions herself and finally declares: “I’m a lost land in the blue.”  “I Thought I Knew” seems to be a further exposition of the deep fissures within this dying relationship.  “I called you up and drew you in, I thought I knew you, but I was wrong… I’d only just arrived when I foresaw the end.”  “Before the Leaving” tells of her touring lifestyle, with constant references to the storm of the impending break-up, returning home with the final poignancy of the line: “Now there is wood that you stacked, and it’s on our front porch; it’s staring me down, and it tells me you left.”  “Hazel Street” and “Black Sheep” are slow story ballads, while “Rose & Thorn” ties up the strings of this heartbreak with regretful lyrics like “O, the mess I’ve made, a crimson rose, a hundred thorns”.

Diane split with her husband last year and it seems as if writing this album was some kind of cathartic release for her, helping her walk through saying goodbye in the midst of what appears to have been an incredibly painful break-up. After listening to About Farewell, it sounds as if she’s also working through other damaging relationships in her life. She does it so well.  About Farewell is wonderfully melancholic, but not depressive. It is beautifully sad, but not hopeless. There is a timeless, elegant feel to the entire album, hinting that Alela Diane will someday deserve a place in the golden circle of iconic singer-songwriters.  In my opinion, she already does.

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