Alela Diane’s popularity simmered for three years as The Pirate’s Gospel – a spontaneous piece of ingenuity written while traveling Europe in 2004 – slowly spread via word-of-mouth on CD-R. The debut paints the portrait of a seer playing ominous acoustic portents unnoticed in the corner of some mid-19th century inn filled with sailors. It had inherent, mature character displayed through raw songwriting talent. It was the stuff of indie darlings.
But the career trajectory trap of the digital age begs musicians to stay true to their sound while transferring their aesthetic from lo-fi recording values to a full band working in-studio. Diane’s trajectory has taken her vagabond tales of a weary traveler and stripped them of their cache in lieu of molding an adult contemporary country band for her third album, Alela Diane and Wild Divine; no vivid characters or shanties painted, just lush orchestration and a female lead pondering life’s mysteries. In short, somebody who may not have realized she was on the hook for indie folk cutie morphed into a comforting country crooner, and therefore, Diane’s transition from vagabond songwriter to studio artist has left her better half – her more eccentric creativity – by the wayside.
With that full band, Diane’s sound headed decidedly westward toward her Californian roots, outfit in turn with violin, steel lap guitar, clean electric twang, organ, etc. But it’s not the pieces that are found wanting, it’s the bland consistency through which the unit is able to produce disconnected, unobtrusive singles. While each track is lovely and reassuring in texture and sheen – especially as producer Scott Litt (R.E.M., The Replacements) and Diane successfully present her voice as a stand-out instrument – there is nothing to challenge the ear. No overarching themes, uniquely pervasive styles or refreshing techniques to interact with, just some comforting folk rock.
So while the melodies are effectively catchy, affecting and distinct – “Long Way Down” plods along quarter note by quarter note with an accordion backdrop, and as Diane’s descending accents continuously fall in line, her pathos is matched step for step with perseverance, and the excellent opener “To Begin” adds a bounce to her step, making it clear that her new niche finds her strutting on stage – they are also strikingly similar in their simplicity and conventionality without enough character to call it cohesion. But that disconnected simplicity doesn’t mean you should write Alela Diane and Wild Divine off as boring and/or generic when she’s proven her ability to write effective hymns, because ultimately, this album accomplishes what it set out to: it’s cathartic, maybe even exquisite. The only problem is that it never tries to be exceptional.
Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark
Carole King – Tapestry
She & Him – Volume Two