Alela Diane: Cusp (Album Review)

So many of my favorite artists from Muruch’s early days have fallen away or ruined their signature sounds chasing musical trends, but not Alela Diane. Alela is reliable in releasing albums that fit perfectly in her oeuvre without stifling her artistic growth. Her new, fifth album, Cusp, is the perfect example. There’s no doubt you’re listening to an Alela Diane album, but its beauty and brilliance is still fresh and surprising.

Alela is one of the rare artists who always has something of substance to convey through her lyrics and never fails to do so in an eloquent, innovative, and exquisitely poetic way.

Cusp explores the theme of motherhood–its tribulations as much, if not more than, its joys–but, like the best poetry, each lyric can be interpreted and expanded far beyond the original intent.

The standout tracks are “Ether & Wood” and “Yellow Gold.”

“Ether & Wood” is a rumination on life and loss–from past relationships to mortality. She manages to compare visiting an old home to a newborn baby leaving the womb with the succinct, plaintive refrain “I don’t live there anymore.

“Yellow & Gold” pairs Alela’s lovely voice with a melody that builds from a gentle piano melody into an otherworldly multi-instrumental folk symphony.

A decade ago, Alela Diane was one of the many “indie folk” artists that gave Muruch it’s brief reputation as a folk music blog. Now she truly stands in a class of her own.

Alela Diane Official Site

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Alela Diane: New Mp3!

Alela Diane will return with the new album Alela Diane & Wild Divine on April 5th. To celebrate, her record label is offering a 100% free, legal mp3 of the album’s first single. “To Begin” has a fuller, catchier country sound than the sparse folk style of Alela’s previous releases.

Alela Diane – To Begin (mp3)*

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of Rough Trade Records

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Headless Heroes: New Mp3

Headless Heroes will release the album The Silence of Love on May 19th. The project features the delicate voice of Alela Diane, and features a variety covers originally recorded by Daniel Johnston, Vashti Bunyan, The Jesus & Mary Chain, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds among others. The music is similar to Alela’s own soft folk sound.

Headless Heroes – True Love Will Find You In The End (mp3) *

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of band’s PR rep

Headless Heroes Official Site

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Alela Diane: To Be Still

Alela Diane’s third album To Be Still will be released on February 17. While her previous release The Pirate’s Gospel featured a stylistic mix of haunting Appalachian folk and swaying sea chanteys, To Be Still has a more intimate retro folk sound like that of Judee Sill or Kath Bloom. As much as I enjoyed her sophomore release, I think the folk style of the new album is much more complimentary to her voice. No longer is the emphasis merely on the creation of a certain atmosphere, but on the cohesion of the instrumentation and Alela’s vocals.

“Dry Grass & Shadows” is a lovely beginning that rustles and knocks, with mellow lap steel and tinkling piano meandering throughout the song. The melody is sparse enough to focus attention on Alela’s warm voice, but the arrangement has a refreshing spirit often lacking in folk music.

“White As Diamonds” possesses the backwoods half yodel of Judee Sill (a more modern example being Mariee Sioux). The melancholy duet “Age Old Blues” is pure Appalachia, and there’s a hint of classic country in the album’s title track.

The slight echo of Alela’s vocal intertwines with sweet fiddle on the haunting “Take Us Back”. The pluck of a banjo and Alela’s mini-keens drive “The Alder Trees”, a song that sounds like a descendant of both Joan Baez and Nick Drake. Meanwhile, the eerie vocals and ominous percussion of “The Ocean” initially call to mind Bat For Lashes but the song slowly grows into something more tangible.

To Be Still is a very beautiful and finespun album that has the potential of becoming a classic.

Alela Diane – White As Diamonds (mp3) *

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of Beggars Group

Alela Diane Official Site
Alela Diane MySpace

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Alela Diane: The Pirate’s Gospel

Alela Diane’s The Pirate’s Gospel captures the wayward spirit of a sea chantey and combines it with the reclusive nature of Appalachian folk tunes. It is the second release from the Californian singer-songwriter and self-taught musician, and was unfortunately one of the overlooked gems that had been swallowed up by my promo vortex this year. Originally self-released and sewn in hand lettered paper packaging trimmed in lace, the album was re-released last year by Holocene Music. The songs on the disc were inspired by and written during Alela’s 2004 journey through London and Paris.

While songs like “Third Feet” and the backwoods home invasion tale “The Rifle” have subtle acoustic melodies, Alela’s unique voice fills each note with robust soul and a little bit of mountain twang.

The stand out track is “The Pirate’s Gospel”, which flourishes from a bluegrass rhythm anchored with handclap percussion into a haunting pirate ship choir hum on the chorus.

“Foreign Tongue” would sound like a sedate Cat Power song if not for the shivery whistles and the way Alela’s lilting vocals seem to teeter on the edge of a yodel. “Sister Self” brings back the pirate theme, yet the bluesy guitar mixed with the rise and fall of Alela’s earthy voice transforms it into a spiritual.

Alela has shared the stage with Joanna Newsom, The Decemberists, and Vashti Bunyan. She is currently working on a new album to be released in 2008. And she has the most adorable cat named Bramble Rose.

(mp3 removed)

Alela Diane Official Site
Alela on MySpace

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