Tough time deciding where to begin reviewing Alela Diane’s To Be Still. The Nevada City, California-born songstress has fashioned a doozy with her Rough Trade debut and answer to 2006’s heralded The Pirate’s Gospel.
Label: ROUGH TRADE
Tough time deciding where to begin reviewing Alela Diane’s To Be Still. The Nevada City, California-born songstress has fashioned a doozy with her Rough Trade debut and answer to 2006’s heralded The Pirate’s Gospel. There’s that voice-as refreshing as the water Diane sings about “where the snow melt flows.” Those lyrics-brilliant images braided together that can transport the listener from both place and time. That increased production since Gospel-still coarse enough to convey the bucolic nature of the album yet sturdy enough to give her vocals their deserved support; all together lending nearly an immeasurable sense of depth within the ten songs on To Be Still.
Diane’s voice is what initially captivates the listener. Like the sirens found within “Age Old Blue,” her singing is an irresistible white light in the fog. Had O Brother, Where Art Thou? been made ten years later, she certainly would have been part of that dynamic female trio which worked Everett and company into a stupor. Listen to that same song and her inflections on the phrase “shady rhythm.” Such a simple expression made so magical by Diane’s vocal mannerisms.
It could also be argued that Diane’s words are as stunning as the way she presents them. Lyrical mastery abounds throughout To Be Still. At times, it feels as if one is listening to a collection of short stories set to music. In “Take Us Back” she sings of meeting at that inspirational creek and “skipping stones/braiding hair/last year’s antlers/mark the trail,” after which repeating “take us back.” Instantly, time travel and teleportation are possible.
But all of this would be out of context were it not for the instrumentation on this record. The fiddle, whose “lonesome bow creaks and moans like empty houses.” The dynamic percussion, which is at times clattering, and at others calculated. The picking, painted with shades of Appalachia. These elements perfectly accompany Diane, allowing for a truly “timeless” record in a day and age where that label is lazily misused.