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Music Review: Alela Diane – To Be Still

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As a child of the 1970s, I listened to the folk music of my parents' generation — The Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, Simon & Garfunkel — and to this day, those influences have stayed with me. There's just something about a simple story woven by a folk artist using acoustic guitar, piano, and various other instruments to spin a tale.

Alela Diane is one of many of this generation's new folk musicians, telling the stories her way — with simple guitar melodies, a haunting bluegrass fiddle, modest drum set, and an occasional bass violin. This is the kind of music I'd expect to hear on a porch-hosted jam session.

Alela Diane - To Be StillEvery song on To Be Still was written and performed by Alela with accompaniment. Created in 2007 and 2008, she began recording in Portland, Oregon and finished between tours and in her father's home studio in Nevada City, California. Diane has said, "It was challenging to delicately yet purposefully incorporate instrumentation into songs that I was so used to singing myself." She wanted percussion, the "lonesome bow of the violin," and the harmonies she heard in her head when she played the songs before.

I think she captured what she was after. Her voice has a great range of expressiveness as she shares her songs with us. And the arrangements are haunting and beautiful at the same time. Further, the musical layers within the arrangements don't detract from her voice or the words of her songs. It probably helped that she was recording the tracks with her musician father and their friends, including Michael Hurley, who provides some great harmony to back her voice on "Age Old Blue."

Though I can't say I'm much of a fan of the "twang" in country music, I think it works for Diane through the course of this album where it appears. The title track, "To Be Still," has a steel guitar woven through it that doesn't detract or become annoying in the way that I sometimes find that guitar style to be.

"Age Old Blues," with its interwoven harmonies, and "The Alder Trees," with its more upbeat and almost Celtic feel, are my two favorites on the album. I have to admit that the texture of the tracks works, granting us some amazing, soaring vocals and stories amid the simple but powerful arrangements.

If you are a fan of more traditional folk tunes, I would heartily recommend that you check out To Be Still when it is released on February 17, 2009. It's worth a few listens.

Track listing:

  1. Dry Grass & Shadows
  2. White As Diamonds
  3. Age Old Blues
  4. To Be Still
  5. Take us Back
  6. The Alder Trees
  7. My Brambles
  8. The Ocean
  9. Every Path
  10. Tatted Lace
  11. Lady Divine
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About Fitz

Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!
  • Gina

    Alela is pretty good for a beginner and her sound will probably become more solid and developed as time goes on.
    The one thing she must do is refrain from using that gimmick shifting in her voice.
    I am telling you as a a person who has classical voice training it is actually cheating and lack of confidence that causes beginners to do this.
    If they continue, as some singers have, then they will always be amateurs. She has a solid clear voice and needs to stop with the gimmick in order
    to be taken seriously. It actually requires more dicipline and vocal strength to sing without the gimmicks. Lets see if she can do it..I think she will. She would do herself a favor watching the dvds of that rock voice coach Melissa Cross.
    Best to You Alela