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.
Every 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.