Budding 22 year old, Nevada City born Alela Diane has mastered the art of ominous vocal melodies, pervading sheer clarity while preserving a meditative interior. The lengthy bellows of her vocal register resonates like a robust javelin throw that anchors a thick formidable force deep from the belly. It is rare to say that a female singer has brute strength in her vocals, but somehow Alela Diane manages to have that welded into a series of moving folk ballads on The Pirate’s Gospel.
The Pirate’s Gospel is a collection of rustic songs, with acoustic guitars and Alela’s vocals being the main components. The acoustic pop and folk dirges are a significant portion of the album, with throngs of children’s choirs and dabs of handclapping backbeats to plump up the songs. There is spirituality in Alela Diane’s vocals that make the songs bare and meaningful. There is also a spontaneity in her vocals that cause her voice to go down deeper or lighter, shifting gears with an unpredictable steering. Her vocal intonations at times are mellow and subdued like in “My Tired Feet” and “The Rifle,” and at other times are bold and fast paced like on “Foreign Tongue” and “Something’s Gone Awry.”
Her lyrical content takes snippets of real life situations, especially about daily struggles, like in the song “Can You Blame The Sky” as her vocals pour out: “Can you blame the sky when a mama leaves her baby behind.” A dominant theme in Alela Diane’s songs revolves around people doing what’s necessary to survive , which can be applied to the title of the album conveying the image that an entrepreneur must hold a code sacred to keep alive. Her songs take on an Eric Bachmann-like rough edge with something of a pop sound a la KT Tunstall in the vocals. The tense guitar arpeggios on “Can You Blame The Sky” are coppered in Italian folk and spliced by Alela’s sullen vocal notches.
The title track trellises a peppy rhythm with ghostly shrouded vocals and choruses circling the acoustic guitar sputters. There is a Katy Rose simplicity in Alela Diane’s moods like in the tune “Pieces Of String” and rhythmic vocals in the vein of Regina Spektor on the mid-tempo fife “Clickity Clack.” Alela Diane also dips into a country twang with “Sister Self” and a bluesy vibe on “Pigeon Song,” but overall her vocals carry a gospel lilt that bellows over the folk tunneled guitar chords like in the final selection “Oh! Mama.”
The Pirate’s Gospel has a lot of acoustic folk/pop appeal but carries over into other genres including blues, gospel, and country. Her album demands repeated listens in order to be fully appreciated. On the surface, the songs are bare and simple but there is so much more in Diane’s vocals that require more than just one listen. When most acoustic folk artists become boring after a few rounds, Alela Diane keeps piquing greater interest.