Album Review: Alela Diane – Alela Diane & Wild Divine

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Alela Diane‘s uncanny ability to place herself, and her music, completely out of musical and historical context has won her a sizable fan base in the New Weird America folk movement–whether she consents to the label or not. Hers is a timeless sound, that of a wayfaring troubadour, which only seems to come a few times a generation. Her stellar first record, 2006’s The Pirate’s Gospel, placed her on the gentler end of the freak folk fence, her sincere, timeless voice and songwriting earning her country-flecked brand of folk comparisons to 70’s folk godmothers Karen Dalton and Vashti Bunyan. But, as is often a flip side to lo-fi charm, much of The Pirate’s Gospel sounded coarse and unpolished. Diane’s second full-length, To Be Still, was a graduated effort that saw her begin to outgrow the confines of acoustic simplicity, working in richer, more elaborate instrumentation and (with the help of her guitarist/producer father, Tom Menig, and multi-instrumentalist boyfriend, Tom Bevitori) a fleshed-out, full-band sound that played wonderfully off of her elegant, acoustic arrangements.

Diane’s latest record, Alela Diane & Wild Divine, takes all that a step further. Diane, Menig, and Bevitori (now husband) are joined by Jonas Haskins on bass and drummer Jason Merculief to form Wild Divine, a quintet that downplays the overt folk of her past two records in favor of a more straightforward rock approach. Production comes courtesy of noted altern-rock luminary Scott Litt, whose studio credentials include R.E.M., the Replacements, and Patti Smith, who was coaxed out of a seven-year dormancy after catching wind of Diane’s demos. Perhaps Diane’s greatest virtue as a songwriter is the undeniable authenticity she lends to her work, and it’s this authenticity that runs deep throughout her new record. In the all-too-crowded world of singer-songwriters, her sincere voice, lyrical and vocal, does well to set her far ahead of the crowd. From the heartfelt longing that permeates the gorgeous melody that drives the positively soulful number “Heartless Highway” to the delicate vocal harmonies of album highlight “Suzanne”, Alela Diane & Wild Divine is the sound of an icon in the making, the third straight stunner from a remarkable songwriter who’s sure to be a fixture in folk music for years to come.

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