Alela Diane: Alela Diane & Wild Divine

Alela Diane
Alela Diane & Wild Divine
(Rough Trade Records)

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Alela Diane’s third full-length album, entitled Alela Diane & Wild Divine, is a clear-eyed and earnest ten song document of straightforward, singer/songwriter sincerity. There are no synths, loops or drum machines, no confrontational sounds to be heard. Even the electric guitars and drums are muted. Acoustic guitars, mandolin, accordion– all the accoutrements of rootsy Americana are here in abundance. Riding above it all is Alela’s pure, bell-like voice, an amalgam of Joan Baez, Carly Simon and Natalie Merchant, but with a steely confidence all her own. It’s a beautiful instrument, one that fellow Portlandians, Blitzen Trapper, employed to perfection last year in “The Tree,” a gorgeous duet with Eric Earley. Currently she’s scored a prime gig, touring with folk-rock superstars Fleet Foxes.

But Diane’s music lags behind her peers. It’s not enough to sound authentic, you have to have great songs too and most of the material floats by in an undistinguished, middle-of-the-road haze. The biggest exception is “Desire,” a sultry lament that conveys real erotic longing, coupled with a strong, sing-and-spell pop hook. “Elijah” is an intriguing tale of sacrifice that contains some of Diane’s strongest vocals, in which she stretches the title into an eight syllable word.

The band, which features her husband and her father, (the insularity might be part of the problem) plays with time signatures toward the end of the album, notably on “Heartless Highway” and “White Horse.”  The experimentation is a welcome respite from the strummy sameness of the rest of the material, but it’s too little too late.

If the lyrics were brilliant, but their settings mediocre, you could blame the family, but that isn’t the case. They range from new age cringiness (“Woman of the island/Please send me light”) to just plain mundane (“Everyone must take a road that’s all their own”).

A voice like Diane’s is a terrible thing to waste. Hopefully on her next outing, she’ll pair it with material more worthy of her attentions.

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About Dan Siegler

Dan Siegler is a music producer/composer/songwriter from NYC. He has an inexhaustible supply of opinions and expresses them freely at Short and Sweet NYC and Baeble Music as well as to strangers in bars.
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